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HK agents find $2.2M in illegal rhino horns, ivory

Ports and Maritime Command acting head Lam Tak-fai shows seized rhino horns at the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department in Hong Kong Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011. Hong Kong Customs seized a total of 33 unmanifested rhino horns, 758 ivory chopsticks and 127 ivory bracelets, worth about HK$17 million ($2.23 million), inside a container shipped to Hong Kong from Cape Town, South Africa. Ports and Maritime Command acting head Lam Tak-fai shows seized rhino horns at the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department in Hong Kong Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011. Hong Kong Customs seized a total of 33 unmanifested rhino horns, 758 ivory chopsticks and 127 ivory bracelets, worth about HK$17 million ($2.23 million), inside a container shipped to Hong Kong from Cape Town, South Africa. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
November 15, 2011

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HONG KONG—Hong Kong customs agents have confiscated a shipment of rhino horns and ivory worth about 17.4 million Hong Kong dollars ($2.2 million) -- their biggest seizure of smuggled endangered species products, officials said Tuesday.

Officials said they seized 33 rhino horns, 758 ivory chopsticks and 127 ivory bracelets concealed in a shipping container that arrived Monday at Hong Kong's port from Cape Town, South Africa. They would not name the container's final destination.

Customs agents X-rayed the container because its listed cargo -- scrap plastic -- raised a flag, said Acting Head of Ports and Maritime Command Lam Tak-fai. They found the rhino horns and ivory after peeling away layers of tinfoil, paper and plastic wrapped around the items.

Wai-king Yik, a spokeswoman for the customs and excise department, said it was a record seizure of endangered species products for Hong Kong.

The seizure tops one in August of $1.6 million worth of African ivory.

Several rhino subspecies are believed to have recently become extinct. Rhino horns are prized by Vietnamese and Chinese who believe they can cure an array of ailments, and the horns can fetch up to $50,000 per pound (about $100,000 per kilogram). Some 190 pounds (86 kilograms) worth of rhino horns were found Monday by the Hong Kong officials, who said they would have required the deaths of around 17 rhinos.

Lam told reporters it was a record seizure of rhino horns for Hong Kong. He said customs agents have occasionally found single rhino horns being smuggled in luggage by visitors to Hong Kong but this is the first time they have found a large batch hidden in a shipping container.

No one has been arrested.

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