NAIROBI - Kenya's embattled wildlife service said Thursday it had arrested two people after seizing a huge haul of ivory equivalent to at least 114 poached elephants in the port city of Mombasa.
The find of 228 tusks and 74 ivory pieces, together weighing well over two tonnes, is thought to be biggest of its kind in the city so far this year, the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) said.
"It's the first seizure of this magnitude since the beginning of this year in Mombasa," KWS spokesman Paul Muya told AFP.
A statement said two suspects were arrested during a joint KWS and police swoop on a Mombasa warehouse, and would appear in court Friday.
It was not clear if the ivory came from elephants in Kenya or elsewhere in Africa.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Kenyan and Tanzanian ports are the primary gateway for ivory smuggled to Asia.
Ivory is sought out for jewellery and decorative objects and much of it is smuggled to China, where many increasingly wealthy shoppers are buying ivory trinkets as a sign of financial success.
Rhinos are also being killed for their horns, which is used in traditional medicine in some Asian countries.
Kenyan police officers look at 302 pieces of ivory, including 228 elephant tusks, found and seized in a warehouse during a raid in the port city of Mombosa. PHOTO/AFP
A sharp rise in poaching in Kenya, which is home to an estimated 30,000 elephants and 1,040 rhinos, has sparked warnings from conservation groups that the state-run KWS is losing the fight against the slaughter.
In April, five senior KWS officials were suspended as part of a probe into allegations of mismanagement. Officials said the purge was sparked when it was discovered that sophisticated anti-poaching equipment promised to poorly-equipped park rangers had not been deployed.
Authorities have also been accused of allowing known poaching ringleaders to act with impunity.
A kilo of ivory is worth some $850 (650 euros) in Asia. UNODC estimates ivory smuggled to Asia from Eastern Africa was worth over $31 million in 2011.
But the short-term and finite profits generated by the spate of killings are threatening the far more valuable tourism industry, which is the second-largest foreign exchange earner after agriculture in both Kenya and Tanzania.