Thursday, May 15, 2008

Kenya charges 2 Chinese citizens over ivory haul

By TOM ODULA – 11 hours ago

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Police charged a Chinese man and woman with illegally possessing about 240 pounds of ivory and trying to fly it out of Kenya, an officer said Thursday.

Shubo Liang and Tao Gu pleaded not guilty after the charges were read in a magistrate's court, said Joseph Mumira, chief investigator at Kenya's main international airport where the pair were arrested.

A routine screen of the suspects' luggage Wednesday showed they contained elephant tusks, cut into pieces, Mumira said, adding that the origin of the tusks was unknown.

The suspects had been scheduled on a flight to Beijing, via Doha, Qatar, he said.

If found guilty the suspects face a maximum one-year jail sentence and a fine of up to 10,000 shillings ($163).

The amount seized was relatively small compared with the global illegal ivory trade, according to Elizabeth Wamba of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. But "there is no seizure that is too small," she said.

Campaigners against the ivory trade say China is possibly the largest single Asian market for illegal African elephant tusks, but that weak law enforcement in China means accurate figures are hard to come by.

Much of the ivory destined for China is carved into jewelry and ornaments bought mainly by tourists from other parts of Asia, and an undetermined amount of ivory jewelry and ornaments are exported to Europe, Japan, North America, Singapore and Thailand.

Kenya's elephant population has grown from around 16,000 to 27,000 since the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species banned the ivory trade in 1989. But that is far fewer than the estimated 167,000 elephants that lived in Kenya in 1973, before poaching devastated the country's herds.