DAKAR (Reuters) - Senegalese authorities have broken up a ring of traffickers selling jewelry made from the tuft of hair at the end of an elephant's tail, an advocacy group said on Thursday.
Investigators found more than 450 items including bangles, rings and bundles of hair worth around $65,000 during a raid last week and detained eight people involved, according to Eco Activists for Governance and Law Enforcement (EAGLE).
The hair is thought to have been imported illegally from central African countries by Senegalese jewelers who sold the finished items both locally and to European clients.
The jewelry, which can be plaited with gold or encrusted with gems, can be sold for the equivalent of thousands of dollars.
Elephants use the hair on their tails as a fly swat. While it can theoretically be removed from a tranquilized elephant without killing it, EAGLE's Ofir Drori said that, in reality, they were killed by poachers for their tusks and other products such as the hair.
"It was surprising for us to expose such a magnitude of trade of killed elephant tails artifacts to Europe," said Drori, a founding director of EAGLE, which led the investigation and informed Senegalese authorities.
EAGLE said the Dakar jewelers paid 10 million CFA Francs ($17,175) to the government and were released in a decision which Drori called a "failure of the rule of law".
A government official and a Western diplomatic source also confirmed that the seizure had been made. The official confirmed that an unspecified sum was paid and said that was in line with national law.
A police spokesman was not immediately able to comment on the incident.
Africa has an estimated 500,000 elephants left from the millions that used to roam the continent.
Some local populations face an immediate threat of extinction as poachers seek to meet rising Asian demand for ivory, conservationists warn.
(Reporting by Emma Farge; Additional reporting by Diadie Ba; Editing by Alison Williams)