Tanzania police seize more than 200 elephant tusks

DAR ES SALAAM Wed Oct 31, 2012 9:17am EDT

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DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - Tanzanian police have seized more than 200 elephant tusks hidden in a coffin and in fertilizer bags, pointing to rising poaching in the east African country, officials said on Wednesday.

"This is the biggest seizure of elephant tusks in Dar es Salaam in recent history. The tusks were really big, which means that they were carefully picked for certain customers," regional police commander, Suleiman Kova, told Reuters.

In recent years, poaching has become a curse in Tanzania and other sub-Saharan African countries which attract tourists to view the rich wildlife in their game reserves.

Well-armed criminals kill elephants and rhinos for their tusks, which are used for ornaments and in some folk medicines.

Police said the 214 tusks were worth 2.1 billion shillings ($1.32 million) and that at least three suspects had been arrested, including two Kenyans. The smugglers had planned to transport the ivory to Kenya, they said.

Most of the elephant tusks smuggled from the east African nation end up in Asian countries, according to police.

A Tanzanian member of parliament, Peter Msigwa, said poaching was out of control in the country, with an average of 30 elephants being slaughtered for their ivory every day.

This month Hong Kong seized HK$26.7 million ($3.5 million) worth of elephant tusks and ornaments smuggled from Tanzania and Kenya, its biggest seizure of illegal ivory.

In August 2011, Tanzanian authorities seized more than 1,000 elephant tusks hidden in sacks of dried fish at Zanzibar port which were destined for Malaysia.

(Reporting by Fumbuka Ng'wanakilala, Editing by James Macharia and Alistair Lyon)

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