KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Ugandan authorities seized a ton of illegal ivory and arrested three West Africans they believe were plotting to ship it abroad, an official said Saturday.
The seizure happened late Friday at an "opulent, expansive house" in a suburb of the capital, Kampala, where law enforcement officials had been monitoring the West Africans for several weeks, said Gessa Simplicious, a spokesman for the Uganda Wildlife Authority.
A Liberian and two Guinea-Bissau nationals were arrested for possessing the ivory and would face criminal charges.
The ivory likely had been imported from neighboring countries such as Tanzania and Congo because it had markings not familiar to Ugandan authorities, Simplicious said.
"We are happy because Uganda will not be used anymore as a transit point" for smugglers of wildlife products, he said. Smugglers take advantage of porous borders in Africa's Great Lakes region to move illegal wildlife products around, he said.
Uganda has about 5,600 elephants still left the wild. Although their numbers have been rising in recent years, elephants face sporadic poaching, sometimes with the help of corrupt wildlife officials.
Uganda's government recently set up a canine unit to help curb the illegal trade in wildlife products.
Africa had 1.3 million elephants in the 1970s but has less than 500,000 today. Experts warn that if the ivory trade is not stopped, elephant populations could plummet.
Ivory is treasured as a status symbol in China, where it is often carved into small trinkets. China recently said it plans to shut down its ivory trade by the end of 2017.