Wildlife officer suspected of stealing $65,000 of smuggled elephant tusks
A Philippine wildlife officer is suspected of stealing more than 1,500 pounds (700 kilograms) of smuggled elephant tusks seized last year, an embarrassing setback for the country's anti-poaching efforts, an official said Wednesday.
The ivory worth $65,000 was part of a 8,800-pound (4,000-kilogram) shipment of tusks that was impounded at Manila airport in July and turned over for disposal to the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau, said Theresa Mundita Lim, the agency's director. Trade in ivory is banned under U.N. rules.
She said the theft of nearly a fifth of the stored tusks was discovered while inventory was being taken on a warehouse Friday. Seals on some of the boxes were broken and some of the original tusks were replaced by replicas made of PVC pipes covered with plaster, she said.
Wildlife authorities filed administrative charges against a park supervisor, who may also face a criminal case depending on the probe by the National Bureau of Investigation, Lim said. The suspect, who was not identified, has not returned to work since Friday, she said.
"This is really embarrassing because we should be among the proactive countries protecting internationally important species," Lim told The Associated Press.
"It is already a shame that the tusks are smuggled here and the Philippines is an end-market, where the tusks are processed and finished products like carvings are exported from here."
Lim said Interpol has informed her office that a team of inspectors from Tanzania is due to arrive next week to carry out DNA tests on the tusks to establish if they originated from the East African nation.
She said she was not even sure if all the tusks seized at the airport were handed over to her bureau. Customs officials last year said the shipment was worth $2 million, but Lim said the street value of what was turned over to her office was about $450,000.
"I don't know where the other portion of the shipment went," she said, adding that the investigation has been ongoing.
The whereabouts of tusks confiscated in previous smuggling attempts in 2005 and 2008 also are unclear, she said.
Corruption and smuggling, particularly in customs, has long been a concern. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo created an anti-smuggling group in 2007 to curb unlawful imports and other violations facilitated by corrupt customs officials.
Trade in ivory was banned under the 1989 U.N. Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species that has helped in the recovery of the elephant population in several African countries.
-- Associated Press
Photo: A Philippine Parks and Wildlife worker looks at fake elephant tusks at left which were used to replace stolen original tusks inside a storage room at the Parks and Wildlife office at Manila's Quezon city Wednesday March 3, 2010, in the Philippines. The original tusks can be seen at right. Credit: AP Photo/Bullit Marquez