DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - Tanzanian police said on Tuesday it had seized elephant ivory worth more than $2 million (1.5 million pounds) and arrested nine suspected smugglers in June in an operation supported by Interpol and police forces in the region.
Poaching has risen in recent years across sub-Saharan Africa. Gangs kill elephants and rhinos, both endangered animals, and ship their tusks and horns to Asia for use in ornaments and medicines.
“We were able to seize 666 pieces of elephant ivory, weighing 1,279 kilogrammes valued at 4.6 billion shillings ($2.11 million),” Diwani Athuman, director of criminal investigation, said in a statement.
Among the suspects arrested were two citizens of Guinea and one Ugandan. Interpol and police forces in eastern and southern Africa took part in the operation, he said.
The elephant population in Tanzania shrank to around 43,000 in 2014 from 110,000 in 2009, according to a census released last year, with conservationists blaming “industrial-scale” poaching. The rhino population is much smaller.
The East African country relies heavily on revenues from safari tourism and new President John Magufuli has pledged to root out poaching as part of a wider war on corruption.
A prominent Chinese businesswoman Yang Feng Glan, 66, dubbed the “Ivory Queen”, is facing trial in Tanzania on charges of running a elephant ivory smuggling network.
Reporting by Fumbuka Ng'wanakilala; Editing by George Obulutsa and Raissa Kasolowsky