By Joseph Akwiri
MOMBASA, Kenya (Reuters) - Kenyan officials have impounded another large consignment of smuggled elephant ivory barely a week after intercepting a similar haul, highlighting the rise of poaching in Africa.
The ivory, weighing 3.3 metric tons and valued at 65 million shillings ($748,400), was impounded this week. It had been wrapped in gunny sacks and declared as groundnuts being shipped to Malaysia from Kenya's capital, Nairobi, officials said on Tuesday.
"From the ivory we see displayed, we can clearly conclude that this haul amounts to over 200 elephants that were killed," said Fatuma Yusuf, a senior Kenya Revenue Authority official whose team discovered the ivory at the port.
Two other containers suspected of containing ivory are due for inspection, officials at the port city of Mombasa, east Africa's main trade gateway, said.
The seized consignment comprised 382 whole pieces and 62 cut pieces of ivory. Together with the ivory inside the container were unprocessed groundnuts.
On Wednesday, officials seized 775 pieces of ivory weighing 1.3 metric tons, also at the port, hidden under fish and destined for Malaysia from Uganda.
Poaching has risen in recent years across sub-Saharan Africa where well armed criminal gangs have killed elephants for tusks and rhinos for their horns that are often shipped to Asia for use in ornaments and medicines.
Arthur Tuda, the assistant director of Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) in Coast region, said that from his assessment, the ivory appeared to have been extracted from the savannah elephants which he said were characterized by big tusks.
"These elephants occur from central, east and all the way to South Africa. The tusks are definitely from very mature elephants, perhaps 50 or more years old. One of the tusks is seven feet long and weighing 46 kgs (101 lb), clearly from a very mature elephant," Tuda told journalists.
The seizure comes barely two months after customs officials in United Arab Emirates seized 259 pieces of ivory shipped from Mombasa, a port that has long been seen as a transit point for drugs and other contraband goods.
While in Tanzania on his recent tour of Africa, U.S. President Barack Obama announced a $10 million plan to help curb illegal trafficking in rhino horn, elephant tusks and body parts from other endangered wildlife across Africa.
A senior director of KWS said Kenya had been given a six- month ultimatum to curb poaching and smuggling of game trophies, by the convention on international trade in endangered species of wild life, CITES. Failure would result in Kenya being blacklisted.
Kenya's cabinet this year approved stiffer fines and lengthy jail sentences for anyone convicted of poaching or trafficking in wildlife trophies, saying poaching was harming tourism, a major foreign exchange earner.
(Writing by James Macharia)