China seizes 804kg of ivory along with rhino horn, bear paws

BEIJING: Authorities announced Monday the arrests of 16 suspected members of a smuggling ring and the seizure of hundreds of kilograms (pounds) of ivory along with rhino horns and bear paws.

Police in Beijing said that as a result of a crackdown from May to August on the illegal trade and transport of wildlife products, officers netted 804 kilograms (1,770 pounds) of ivory, 11 kilograms (24 pounds) of rhino horns and 35 bear paws in a haul worth 24 million yuan ($3.8 million).

The police said in a statement that the ivory was smuggled illegally from Japan to mainland China via Hong Kong. The 16 suspects were arrested by forest police, which investigate crimes involving wildlife, in Beijing, Hebei, Guangdong and Shandong, among other places.

Traffic, a British-based anti-wildlife trafficking group, praised the operation as a "clear demonstration of the Chinese government's commitment to crack down on illegal wildlife trade." Traffic said in a statement that it was possible that all the wildlife products in the case originated in Japan, where people have been selling legally owned ivory and rhino horns from the 1980s and earlier as their popularity has plummeted.

China is the world's top market for illegal ivory.

In February, China imposed a one-year ban on ivory imports amid criticism that demand for ivory among its rising middle class threatens African elephants. There is still no ban on ivory trade within the country, and conservationists say legal sales provide cover for a thriving black market.