HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong customs agents have seized nearly a ton of illegal ivory worth about $1.5 million, officials said Thursday, in the city's third big bust of endangered species products in three months.
Customs officials said they found a total of 189 elephant tusks weighing 769 kilograms (1,695 pounds) at the southern Chinese city's busy port in anti-smuggling operations carried out in late September.
The ivory was wrapped in linen and nylon bags and hidden in large bags of soybeans in containers on three separate ships, said Vincent Wong, head of Ports and Maritime Command.
The shipments came from Cote d'Ivoire and transited through Malaysia. Officials said the likely final destination was mainland China.
No arrests have been made and authorities are looking for the smugglers, Wong said.
It's the latest in a string of illegal ivory shipments uncovered by Hong Kong authorities over the past few years.
Wildlife activists say China's growing presence in Africa has led to a huge surge in poaching of elephants for their tusks, most of which are believed to be smuggled into China and Thailand to make ivory ornaments.
Wong said the smugglers changed their methods after three other big shipments from Africa were confiscated in Hong Kong this year.
"The smugglers tried a different modus operandi," Wong said. "Instead of one shipment they packed the bulk into three shipments for different consignees. They used different vessels on different voyages to try to evade customs inspections."
In August, Hong Kong officials seized illegal ivory, rhino horns and leopard skins worth $5.3 million in a shipment that came from Nigeria. In late July, they found two tons of tusks worth $2.25 million in a container from Togo. In January, a shipment of ivory worth $1.4 million from Kenya was confiscated.