Thailand Finds Millions in Ivory Hidden in Tea Leaves

A customs officer measures confiscated elephant tusks before a news conference at the customs department in Bangkok, Thailand, April 27, 2015. The illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth up to $23 billion per year. Chaiwat Subprasom/Reuters

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai customs officials on Monday announced their second big seizure of African ivory in two weeks, amounting to around three tonnes of tusks worth about $6 million.

The ivory was hidden in a shipment of tea leaves originating from Kenya, General Dapong Ratanasuwan, the minister of natural resources and the environment, told reporters. Police had made arrests over the seizure, he added, but did not say how many.

Thailand, a top destination for smuggled African ivory, had until the end of March to take steps to shut down domestic trade in ivory or face sanctions under the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES).

The seizure was Thailand's second largest, the Thai Customs Department said in a news release, following just over a week after the largest.

On April 20, customs announced it had seized four tonnes of ivory hidden in bags containing dried beans that originated from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The shipment from Kenya passed through Sri Lanka, Malaysia andSingapore and was destined for Laos, said Somchai Sujjapongse, director-general of customs.

In January, Thailand passed a new law to regulate and control the ivory trade, which requires large items of privately owned ivory to be registered with wildlife and conservation officials.

More than 20,000 African elephants were killed for ivory in 2013, a CITES monitoring program showed, leaving a population believed to be around 500,000.