Malaysia seizes $20M illegal stash of elephant tusks

Malaysian customs officers pose as they display elephant tusks which were recently seized in Port Klang, outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on December 11, 2012. AP Photo

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia Malaysian authorities have seized 1,500 elephant tusks in a $20 million shipment that was believed to have been headed to China.

Customs official Azis Yacub says inspectors at Port Klang harbor last week found 24 tons of unprocessed tusks hidden in secret compartments in containers of timber. He says the shipment originated from Togo and sailed to Spain, where it was transferred to another ship before arriving in Malaysia.

He said in a statement received Wednesday that intelligence showed the shipment was to be moved to another ship before heading to China. No arrests have been made.

Malaysia has stepped up inspections for illegal ivory after wildlife groups said the country was becoming a transit hub for tusks amid robust demand in China that has decimated African elephant populations.

Experts estimate about 25,000 elephants are being killed the poachers in Kenya alone. The scale of the killings led U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to call on world leaders to end their slaughter and declare December 4 Wildlife Conservation Day.

International gangs make a fortune on the ivory by selling them to illegal markets from Tanzania to Cairo, Egypt.

CBS News correspondent Holly Williams found it was easy to buy ivory in the Egyptian capital. Using a hidden camera, she talked to a shop owner who was eager to show and sell her a pair of elephant tusks for just under $2,000. In China, they'd sell up to 10 times that price, she reported last month.

The shop owner told Williams that his clients included Chinese officials who had visited Egypt on state business and that his best customers are from China.

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