P3 million worth of elephant tusks stolen
- Katherine Adraneda () - March 3, 2010 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Some P3-million worth of seized ivory elephant tusks were stolen from the storage area of the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Nature Center (NAPWNC) in Quezon City.

The missing tusks, estimated to weigh around 793.44 kilos, were part of the 1, 701 kilos of ivory tusks that were turned over to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) by the Bureau of Customs (BOC) after the illegal cargo worth P100 million was intercepted at the South Harbor in May last year.

The cargo was concealed in a shipment of waste plastic materials in two 20-foot container vans that arrived from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, which later turned out to be ivory tusks from elephants that are listed as endangered.

“The discovery of the lost elephant tusks by a team of wildlife officials is very unfortunate as it sets back our global cooperation against wildlife poaching and illegal trade of endangered wildlife species,” said Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Horacio Ramos.

Dr. Mundita Lim, director of the DENR’s Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB), said they only discovered the missing tusks last Friday after an inventory was conducted following reports of pilferage in the storage area.

“News was going around for some time now that one of our personnel has just bought two cars and that he now has a beautiful house,” Lim said. “We could not believe it at first because this employee has been with us for years and is known to be competent and trustworthy. (But) we have verified the reports last Friday.”

Lim said the inventory team discovered replicas were put in place of the stolen ivory tusks to avoid detection.

Lim said that an investigating team from Tanzania, Africa is scheduled to arrive next week to take samples to determine the origin of the seized ivory. 

She said she would insist that the tusks be destroyed immediately after the taking of samples to avoid the possibility of the ivory disappearing from the storage and finding its way to the black market.

This was not the first time that government authorities lost confiscated elephant tusks. 

In 2006, the DENR charged officials and personnel of the Philippine Customs Enforcement and Security Service, Asian Terminal Inc. (ATI), and Bureau of Customs after it discovered that part of the elephant tusks seized by government agents the previous year were stolen.

The missing elephant tusks were part of three separate illegal shipments intercepted at the Manila South Harbor and Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in 2005.

The DENR charged 22 respondents for violating R.A. 9147 (Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act); the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES); Anti-Fencing Law; Revised Penal Code on theft/robbery; and gross neglect of duty.

Meanwhile, Secretary Ramos ordered the filing of administrative charges against a park superintendent of the PAWB, who is believed to be responsible for the latest pilferage of the elephant tusks.

The park superintendent was not immediately identified pending the filing of formal charges of grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

Lim said only two PAWB employees keep the keys of the storage room – a property custodian and the park superintendent.

He said the park superintendent has not been reporting for work since Saturday, or a day after they discovered that the elephant tusks were missing.

ANTI-FENCING LAW ASIAN TERMINAL INC BUREAU OF CUSTOMS DAR ES SALAAM DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENT AND NATURAL RESOURCES DR. MUNDITA LIM ELEPHANT ENVIRONMENT AND NATURAL RESOURCES SECRETARY HORACIO RAMOS INTERNATIONAL TRADE OF ENDANGERED SPECIES OF WILD FAUNA AND FLORA MANILA SOUTH HARBOR AND NINOY AQUINO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT TUSKS
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