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South Africa Intercepts Contraband Ivory From Harare

Residents of Kariba cross a stream in full view of elephants waiting to drink water in this November 2005 file photo. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

South African customs officials at the Oliver Tambo International Airport say they have intercepted 267 kilograms of ivory shipped from Zimbabwe enroute to Vietnam. The ivory is worth an estimated $330,000.

The South African Customs Service said Friday its officials discovered un-cleared ivory tusks among shredded papers in some sealed boxes at the airport.

Environment Minister Saviour Kasukuwere, whose government is being accused by conservationists of illegally wildlife transactions, told VOA the interception of the ivory by South Africa officials is key to ending smuggling.

“We are happy that they have been able to intercept the contraband,” said Kasukuwere. “We will be sharing information with our South African counterparts to find out exactly where it was destined to and who was behind it.”

He said the South African officials had not yet spoken with Harare about their find, adding poaching and the transiting of poached contraband was a big issue in Zimbabwe.

Chairman Jonnie Rodriguez of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force blames government officials of engaging in poaching activities.

“It doesn’t shock me, it doesn’t surprise me because these are the things that people have been saying for years that some VIPs are involved, that they are behind the majority of the ivory trafficking that’s going on in Zimbabwe,” said Rodriguez.

Elephants are under threat from poachers in Zimbabwe where the population has plummeted in wildlife sanctuaries and hunting reserves, according to a conservation group.

In 2013, Zimbabwe suffered one of its worst wildlife carnage after 300 elephants and several other animals were killed by cyanide poisoning in Hwange National Park. Elephant herds have almost been decimated in some parts of east and central Africa.

Ivory ornaments are coveted in Asian countries like Vietnam, Thailand and China pushing Africa's elephants to extinction by the trade. Elephant tusks and other body parts are also used for traditional medicine in Asia.

Last month, French customs officials intercepted 136 kilograms of ivory from the Democratic Republic of Congo which was also bound for Vietnam.