BANGKOK (AP) — Thai authorities have seized 422 pieces of elephant tusks and arrested a Gambian man suspected of smuggling the ivory, customs officials said Tuesday.
The cut-up tusks were hidden in a shipment listed as unprocessed gemstones, Customs Department Director-General Kulit Sombatsiri said. The parcel was examined because Malawi is regarded as high-risk for smuggled goods and because a seizure last year had involved Mozambique ivory that was similarly concealed.
Kulit said Friday's seizure of 330 kilograms (726 pounds) of smuggled ivory worth around $480,000 was the first in Thailand this year. Thai customs officials last year confiscated more than 1,200 kilograms (2,640 pounds) of ivory in nine separate cases.
Sainy Jagne, 41, of Gambia was arrested in Bangkok on Sunday when he attempted to pick up the contraband, Kulit said. He faces charges of violating customs and wildlife protection laws.
The customs official didn't say where the smuggled ivory was being sent or if other people were suspected of involvement. There is an almost total international ban on the trade in ivory.
Poachers have killed tens of thousands of African elephants for their tusks in recent years to meet demand for ivory in Asia, putting the species at great risk. Thailand is a major transit hub and destination for smuggled tusks, which are often carved into tourist trinkets and ornaments. The biggest demand comes from China.
Last year, the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC praised Thailand for a huge drop in sales of ivory items resulting from an official crackdown aimed at shedding the country's image as a center for the illicit trade in wildlife goods.
Thailand had been considered to have the largest unregulated ivory market in the world, but it instituted amended and new laws in 2014 and 2015. The Elephant Ivory Act regulates domestic ivory markets and criminalized the sale of African elephant ivory.