DAKAR (Reuters) - Senegal has seized hundreds of figurines and clusters of lion and hippopotamus teeth as part of the biggest ivory haul in its history and arrested two men illegally selling the merchandise, sources involved in the operation said on Thursday.
Bones, teeth and claws of wild animals are thought to have mystical powers in West Africa and are used by local religious leaders called marabouts to make potions and talismans which are sold in fetish markets.
Increasingly, they are also shipped to buyers in China for use in traditional medicine, part of an illegal trade that has devastated Africa's elephant and rhino populations.
While Senegal has some wild animals such as lions left, the merchants are thought to have bought most of the items in Nigeria and trafficked them from there, according to Charlotte Houpline, director of WARA, a non-governmental organization that participated in the investigation.
The organization is a member of a law-enforcement network in Africa called Eco Activists for Governance and Law Enforcement (EAGLE).
The Senegalese water and forestry department and police collaborated with WARA in Tuesday's operation at the Soumbedioune seaside market place which involved dozens of agents, a Senegalese official said.
The stall had 780 carved items of elephant ivory weighing a total of 20 kilograms and the other animal remains from hippos, lions and warthogs weighed 23 kilograms.
Separately in Benin, a tribunal sentenced two ivory traffickers to more than three years in prison on Thursday, the director of EAGLE's affiliate there said.
(Reporting by Emma Farge; editing by John Stonestreet)