A huge load of smuggled elephant ivory, estimated to be worth about $13 million, was pulverised and incinerated by the Singapore authorities yesterday.
This is the first time that the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) is crushing seized ivory and strongly signals that Singapore does not tolerate being a conduit for smuggling endangered species and their parts, AVA said.
In all, 7.9 tonnes of ivory was crushed yesterday, some of it at an event in Tuas attended by Senior Minister of State for National Development and Home Affairs Desmond Lee.
At the event, workers loaded pieces of ivory onto an excavator which dropped them into an industrial rock crusher.
Small pieces of crushed ivory came out on a conveyer belt and these were poured into a container. The pieces were later incinerated at an eco-waste incineration plant and the ashes will be used as landfill at Pulau Semakau.
Illegal ivory from 4 seizures
The ivory destroyed yesterday came from these four seizures:
JANUARY 2014: Two Vietnamese travellers were arrested at Changi Airport for smuggling 13 ivory tusks, 16 ivory bangles and 109 ivory cubes estimated to be worth about $65,000. The ivory was going from Africa to Laos. The travellers were jailed for 16 months.
MARCH 2014: A shipment from Uganda to Vietnam declared as "coffee berries" was intercepted and detained by the Singapore authorities.
The shipment was found to contain 106 ivory tusks weighing about 1 tonne and estimated to be worth about $2 million. The freight forwarder was issued with a warning for facilitating the transport of the shipment.
MAY 2015: A shipment from Kenya to Vietnam declared as "tea leaves" was intercepted and held by the local authorities.
The shipment was found to contain illegal wildlife parts, including 1,783 ivory tusks weighing about 4.6 tonnes and estimated to be worth about $8 million.
The freight forwarder was fined $5,000 for not making enough effort to ensure that the shipment did not contain contraband.
DECEMBER 2015: Six shipments from Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo to Laos, declared as "hair wigs" and "personal effects", were intercepted and held by the Singapore authorities.
The shipments were found to contain illegal wildlife parts, including 851 ivory tusks weighing about 2.25 tonnes and estimated to be worth about $3 million.
The two freight forwarding companies were fined $5,000 each for not making enough effort to ensure that the shipment did not contain contraband.
The ivory that was crushed came from four seizures over 2014 and last year. The largest one took place in May last year where a shipment, declared as tea leaves from Kenya bound for Vietnam, was intercepted by the local authorities.
It was found to contain illegal wildlife parts, including 1,783 ivory tusks weighing about 4.6 tonnes and estimated to be worth about $8 million.
Mr Lee said in a statement: "By crushing the ivory, we ensure it does not re-enter the ivory market … We will continue enforcement efforts, to prevent Singapore from being used as a transit point."
Most of the ivory seized by the local authorities in the past decade happened in recent years.
Last year, 6.85 tonnes of ivory tusks were seized. In 2014 and 2013, 1.08 and 1.8 tonnes of ivory were seized respectively.
AVA said the public can also play a role in tackling the illegal wildlife trade by not buying products that come from such trade.
Conservation groups welcomed the move to crush the ivory, with some calling for stricter regulation to curb illegal wildlife trade further.
Mr Kim Stengert, director of communications at WWF Singapore, said: "Catching up with our neighbours on the punitive action against illegal wildlife trade could be a very useful step to curbing trafficking through Singapore".
He noted that the maximum jail term for importing and exporting endangered species or their parts was seven years in Malaysia, five years in Indonesia and four years in Thailand. But the penalty for infringing the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act here is a maximum jail term of two years.
Dr Chris Shepherd, regional director of Traffic in South-east Asia, said other kinds of wildlife products were being smuggled through Singapore. Traffic is a wildlife trade monitoring organisation.
He cited shipments of pangolin scales from Nigeria recently seized in Singapore, as well as reptiles and birds and other species seized at the border crossing with Malaysia.