South Sudanese security agents have seized 500 kilogrammes of ivory at Juba airport, a sign that the violence-plagued country is increasingly becoming a route for ivory smugglers, officials said Wednesday.
The ivory of unknown origin was on a flight from Addis Ababa to Juba, from where it was due to be taken via Cairo to Asia, said Khamis Adieng, a spokesman for South Sudan’s wildlife authority.
Wrapped in clothes, the ivory was discovered by sniffer dogs at the airport on Tuesday. Three people were arrested.
In the grip of a civil conflict that has left tens of thousands of people dead since December 2013, South Sudan has few resources to update technology to detect ivory at Juba airport.
“We have no modern technology … and that is why it has become easy for [smugglers] to pass through South Sudan,” Adieng said.
South Sudan nevertheless seized more than 5 tons of ivory from foreign smugglers at Juba airport in 2014-15, he added.
Some of the ivory smuggled out of South Sudan also comes from its own wildlife reserves, where at least 500 elephants are estimated to have been poached during the current conflict.
That still leaves about 4,500 elephants living in the country’s six national parks and 13 game reserves, according to wildlife officials.
Tuesday’s seizure came six months after wildlife officials burned 5 tons of ivory in Juba on World Environment Day to demonstrate the government’s commitment to fight poaching.
The destroyed ivory had been confiscated from poachers and traffickers since 2011.