Sri Lankan authorities begin destroying seized ivory

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- Sri Lankan authorities on Tuesday began destroying a shipment of African ivory seized three years ago, following a ceremony at which Buddhist monks gave the slaughtered elephants blessings for a better rebirth.

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The ivory was traced to northern Mozambique and Tanzania and has been valued by Sri Lankan customs at 368 million rupees (more than $2.5 million). Officials said the ivory, which was seized at Colombo's port, was being transported to Dubai through Kenya and Sri Lanka.

The destruction took place in an elaborate ceremony in Colombo attended by politicians, officials and diplomats.

The 359 tusks weighing a total of 1,529 kilograms (3,370 pounds) were crushed by machines into smaller pieces that will later be burned to ash in high-temperature ovens at a cement factory.

Before the crushing, Buddhist monks chanted blessings to make merit for the elephants so they could have a better rebirth.

John Scanlon, secretary general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, was among those who participated in the ritual, which is usually performed by family members at Buddhist funerals.

Scanlon said the approximate value of the annual illegal trade in wildlife worldwide is $20 billion. The figure excludes timber and marine trade and mostly consists of ivory and rhino horns.

"Today's event also provides a very public opportunity to warn those people who trade illegally in ivory that the age and origin of the contraband can now be readily identified through the use of modern forensics, making prosecution and conviction far more likely," Scanlon said in a speech.

"Illegal trade in ivory is shifting from high profit, low risk to high risk, low profit," he said.


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