A whopping 8.8 tonnes of elephant ivory has been collected in Singapore’s largest seizure to date, according to reports.
It’s estimated the tusks, taken from nearly 300 African elephants, have a street value of $12.9 million (£10.4 million).
An additional 11.9 tonnes of pangolin scales, with a value of $35.7 million (£28.6 million), which is believed to have been taken from around 2,000 of the mammals.
The illegal cargo was seized from containers by Singapore authorities after they received a tip off from China’s customs department.
They were found on a shipment from the Democratic Republic of Congo which was passing through Singapore on its way to Vietnam. The cargo was falsely declared as timber.
The National Parks Board said in a statement:
Upon inspection, sacks containing pangolin scales and elephant ivory were found in one of the containers.
The pangolin scales and elephant ivory seized will be destroyed.
While this seizure is by far the largest of its kind, this isn’t the first time such animal parts have been found in the country. Singapore has seized a grand total of 37.5 tonnes of pangolin scales since April this year alone, BBC News reports.
Kim Stengert, chief communications officer for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Singapore, told Reuters:
Singapore has always been inadvertently implicated in the global ivory trade for two reasons: its global connectivity, as well as the presence of a small domestic market where pre-1990s ivory can be legally sold.
Pangolin scales are well sought after in Asia because of their use in traditional Chinese medicine. Meanwhile, ivory is commonly used for ornaments and in traditional Asian medicine.
Anyone caught illegally importing, exporting and re-exporting wildlife could face two years in prison and/or a fine of up to 500,000 Singapore dollars (£295,000).
Some people are against destroying the stockpile of ivory seized by officials, on the basis it reduces supply and therefore drives up the price for traffickers, making the trade more attractive.
Meanwhile, others believe it must be destroyed like any other contraband to make it valueless, because stockpiling it like other valuable commodity only emphasises the idea it’s priceless.
Dan Stiles’ behavioural economics theory, reported by The Guardian, could also be applied, meaning the burning of huge stockpiles could create the public perception that ivory is rarer than it actually is, therefore artificially increasing the price.
The biggest issue seems to be the overwhelming lack of evidence to support either support both sides of the coin.
In 2014, Karl Mathiesen wrote in The Guardian:
No-one (outside of the trafficking syndicates) really understands how the Chinese ivory trade works. Hence the inability to assess the effect of releasing 102 tonnes of legal ivory into the market in 2008. The world seems to be acting on hunches, rather than data.
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Emma Rosemurgey is an NCTJ trained Journalist at UNILAD. She graduated from the University of Central Lancashire in Preston and started her career in regional newspapers before joining the LADbible Group team in 2017.