MOMBASA, Kenya (Reuters) - Kenyan officials have seized more than 1,600 pieces of illegal ivory in the past week weighing almost five tonnes and hidden inside sesame seed sacks destined for Turkey, wildlife officials said.
Poaching has surged across sub-Saharan Africa, where armed criminal gangs are slaughtering elephants to feed Asia's demand for ivory and rhinos whose horns are ground into powder for use in Asian medicines.
"(The ivory) came through the Kenya-Uganda border stashed in sacks, and they were hidden ... in two 40-foot containers," Arthur Tuda, Kenya Wildlife Service's (KWS) officer in charge of Coast region, told reporters late on Tuesday. "Export documents declared the containers as carrying sesame seeds."
The ivory was found in two separate seizures and valued at a total of 97 million shillings ($1.14 million), the largest weekly haul in the past five years.
A customs official said smugglers were increasingly shipping the contraband through countries not normally associated with demand for ivory and rhino horn powder to avoid raising authorities' suspicions.
DNA studies would be conducted to determine where the ivory originated from, KWS said.
($1 = 84.8500 Kenyan shillings)
(Reporting by Joseph Akwiri; Editing by Richard Lough and Mike Collett-White)