Last Thursday, customs seized roughly 99 kilos of suspected ivory, seven kilos of suspected hornbill beak, and two kilos of suspected agarwood – all worth a total of HKD1.05 million – at the Shenzhen Bay Control Point.
Officers intercepted a 50-year-old male passenger in an outgoing seven-seater private vehicle and discovered the items concealed in his baggage. He has been arrested and the case remains under investigation.
Some organisations estimate that 30,000 African elphants are poached every year for the ivory trade, which is largely fuelled by Chinese demand.
During the annual policy address in January, Chief Executive CY Leung announced a ban on the import and export of ivory and promised to “kickstart legislative procedures”.
The hunger for ivory doesn’t stop with elephants; China is also the main market for hornbill ivory, A.K.A. “red ivory”.
A helmeted hornbill. Photo: Doug Janson via Flickr
It is so named for the hue of the helmeted hornbill’s casques —the chunk of solid keratin above the beak— which is carved into jewellery and other decorative products, pushing the species onto the list of critically endangered species.
The seized hornbill ivory. Photo: Hong Kong Customs
Agarwood is made from Aquilaria trees – a “vulnerable” species – that are infected with a type of mould. As the tree resists infection, it produces a dark, dense and famously aromatic wood, which some say gave the Fragrant Harbour its name and is used in perfume, traditional medicine and carvings.
By law, smuggling can be punishable by by a fine of up to HKD2 million and seven years’ imprisonment.
Under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance, exporting or importing an endangered species can be punishable by a fine of up to HKD5 million and two years’ imprisonment.