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Swiss customs seize $400,000 of elephant ivory en route to China (+video)

Swiss authorities say customs officials at Zurich airport have seized 578 pounds of ivory that three Chinese men had taken from Tanzania. 

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    Confiscated Ivory displayed at Zurich Airport in Kloten , Switzerland on August 4, 2015
    Walter Bieri/Keystone via AP
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Zurich customs officials have seized around 578 pounds of smuggled ivory destined for China, Swiss authorities said Tuesday.

The elephant tusks were discovered in eight suitcases carried by three Chinese nationals in a random check last month at Zurich Airport, The Associated Press reported.

“The elephant tusks had been sawed into 172 pieces to fit into the luggage, which was being transported from Tanzania’s capital, Dar es Salaam, to Beijing via Zurich,” according to the AP.

The elephant tusks, with an estimated black-market value of around $400,000, were believed to have come from 40 to 50 elephants.

The officials also found a kilogram of lion fangs and claws in the luggage.

“The men could face large fines for violating customs and animal protection rules,” Heinz Widmer, the head of the customs operation at Zurich airport, told the Associated Press.

This comes in the wake of the slaying of Cecil, a well-known Zimbabwean lion, which has shined a light on the thriving business of wildlife hunting that is rampant in eastern and southern African countries. 

Today, major American airlines have announced they will no longer ship lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, or buffalo killed by trophy hunters.

The killing of Cecil also prompted US lawmakers to push for a law to block hunters from bringing home endangered species "trophies."

The bill, named for the internationally mourned lion – the Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large (CECIL) Animal Trophies Act – “would make it illegal for trophy hunters to bring back parts of any species proposed or listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act of 1973,” Time reports. 

Last month, President Obama announced new measures that would eliminate the market for illegal elephant ivory in the US. The proposed rule, when implemented would result in a near-total ban on the ivory trade, which have long been targeted by poachers for the US and Asian markets. Despite existing regulations, the US remains the second-largest market for ivory, behind China. 

In June, the US government destroyed more than one ton of illegal ivory before crowds in New York’s Times Square, in a move intended to show its commitment on the crackdown of the illegal trade. China recently made an announcement that it, too, would take action to end ivory trade.

In Africa, earlier this year, Kenya and Mozambique each burned tons of elephant ivories and rhinoceros horns as part of their ongoing efforts to curb poaching.

Wildlife poaching has been rapidly pushing populations of African elephants, rhinos, and other species to the brink of extinction.

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