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Annus Horribilis-Massive Ivory Seizure in Malaysia Makes 2012 Officially the Worst Ever for Elephants

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA--(Marketwire - Dec 11, 2012) - Malaysian officials today announced the world''s largest ever ivory seizure weighing a staggering 24 tonnes. This makes 2012 officially the worst year ever for elephants and the illegal ivory trade.

In total, today''s seizure brings the amount of ivory seized in 2012 to approximately 34 tonnes - the biggest ever in the 24 years since detailed records began, and outstripping by 35 per cent last year''s record of 24.3 tonnes.

Today''s seizure of 1,500 tusks reportedly worth US$20-million in Port Klang comes exactly one year to the day since the previous biggest seizure - 15 tonnes on December 12th 2011.

Earlier this year, in just six weeks, between January and March 2012, at least 50 per cent of the elephants in Cameroon''s Bouba Ndjida National Park were slaughtered for their ivory by horseback bandits.

"It is clear the slaughter of elephants for their ivory will only end when there are no more markets for ivory products and effective enforcement or when are no more elephants to kill," said Jason Bell, Director of the Elephant Programme of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW - www.ifaw.org).

"In 2011 we thought the threats to elephants couldn''t get any worse and 2012 draws to a close with the depressing news that the slaughter of elephants hasn''t even drawn close to their zenith. The illegal trade is simply voracious in its appetite for ivory."

Last week reports indicated the beginning of the 2013 poaching season, as news of caravans of heavily armed poachers crossing from Sudan, across Chad and the Central African Republic, en route west, began to filter into the media.

"It is an indication of an illegal industry completely out of control that law makers still have no idea where the massive amounts of ivory poached in Cameroon early 2012 have gone while hundreds of poachers are heading out to begin their annual killing spree," said Bell.

"We need a completely coordinated effort by the international law enforcement community if we are to have any chance of success against the crime syndicates who are behind the slaughter of elephants for their ivory - between 25,000 and 50,000 in 2011 alone, and many more thousands in 2012.

"That includes swift DNA identification of seized ivory, so that we know how and where to point our efforts to prevent further poaching and close down transit routes for smuggled ivory. That kind of support for countries on the frontline of the war against elephant poaching is essential for success," Bell said.

IFAW has warned that the annual poaching season run by professional poachers in Central Africa may start in the coming days or weeks. Taking advantage of dry season conditions poachers from countries such as Sudan target poorly secured elephant populations across the region. The ivory is smuggled out of West and Central Africa for markets in Asia and Europe, and the money it raises funds regional conflicts.

Most illegal ivory is destined for Asia, in particular China, where it has soared in value as an investment vehicle and coveted as "white gold." Limited availability of legal ivory China purchased from the stockpile sale from southern Africa in 2008 has, in turn, boosted demand encouraging illegal ivory trade and the poaching of elephants to meet market needs. Between 15 October and 16 November 2012, more than five tons of contraband ivory were seized in Hong Kong. While the ivory was found in ships which embarked from Kenya and Tanzania, the origin of the ivory itself is unknown.

Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia Regional Director for IFAW, said China''s fast growing human population, economy and demand for luxury goods, was placing intense pressure on elephant populations.

"Biologically, elephants simply cannot support an economic model of supply and demand. No wildlife can sustain this type of commercial exploitation, let alone a long-living, slow growing, slow-breeding species like the elephant."

Few animals are as threatened by wildlife trafficking as elephants. Earlier this year IFAW raised the alarm as hundreds of elephants were slaughtered in Cameroon. Recent reports from IFAW make it clear that ivory is a global concern with a regional focus. One report from IFAW makes it clear that Chinese demand, and demand in other Asian countries, is largely to blame while another report looking at ivory trafficking in Europe identified significant amounts of ''white gold.''

In partnership with Interpol, IFAW is part of a worldwide capacity building initiative to train law enforcement officers in wildlife trafficking prevention in several countries throughout Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Oceania, and the Caribbean. To date, more than 1,600 governmental representatives at the forefront of this struggle have been trained since 2006.

About IFAW (the International Fund for Animal Welfare)

Founded in 1969, IFAW saves animals in crisis around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.