Nigeria destroys record $11.2 million in seized elephant tusks

By Isaac Anyaogu

LAGOS (Reuters) – Nigeria on Tuesday destroyed 2.5 tonnes of seized elephant tusks valued at over 9.9 billion naira ($11.2 million) in a push to protect its dwindling elephant population from rampant wildlife traffickers.

Over the past three decades, Nigeria’s elephant population

has declined drastically from an estimated 1,500 to less than 400 due to poaching for ivory, habitat loss and human-elephant conflict, according to conservationists.

Minister of State for Environment Iziaq Salako said the government crushed the tusks and will use the powder to build a symbolic national park monument as a reminder of the importance of elephants in the ecosystem.

The pulverization of the tusk in the capital Abuja follows a similar event in October where officials destroyed four tonnes of seized pangolin scales valued at $1.4 million.

Thousands of elephants are killed each year for their tusks despite a 1989 ban on the trade of ivory by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Despite being a signatory to CITES, Nigeria is considered a hub for gangs sending illegal African wildlife parts including tusks and pangolin scales to Asia, according to law enforcement and wildlife experts.

But the large West African nation has stepped up counter-smuggling efforts in recent years, partnering with British, U.S. and German officials as well as international organizations to make its biggest seizure of illegal wildlife parts in August 2021.

Last month, officials began an investigation after a video posted on social media showed a soldier shooting two elephants that strayed into farmlands, sparking outrage among citizens.

In 2022, Nigeria customs officials seized 1,613 tonnes of pangolin scales and arrested 14 people.

(Reporting by Isaac Anyaogu; Editing by Elisha Bala-Gbogbo and Mark Heinrich)