Officials apprehended three men who were caught attempting to smuggle nearly 600 pounds of ivory through the Zurich airport, the largest ivory-find in Swiss history.
Three Chinese men were discovered July 6 carrying 578 pounds of ivory as they arrived from Tanzania. The ivory, which was sawed into 172 pieces and packed into eight suitcases, may have come from up to 50 elephants.
The suitcases also contained lion fangs and claws, which are often sold for use in jewelry or traditional medicine.
The ivory was discovered during a routine security check, according to custom officials, and holds a value over over $400,000 on the black market. The smuggled goods were bound for Beijing, presumably to be sold as jewelry or to be carved into decorative trinkets.
The men were temporarily detained and questioned, and authorities seized the illegal animal parts and the cash the men had in their possession. In Switzerland, a conviction for smuggling ivory can be punished with fines up to $1 million and three years in prison. However, the men were sent back to China, where it is unclear at this time if they will face any charges.
Wildlife experts highlighted the case as an example of how weak smuggling laws do little to dissuade poachers, considering the low risk of punishment and the potential payoff from moving ivory and other illegal goods. They point out how narcotic traffickers moving a similar value of product would be subject to much harsher penalties.
In May, a Chinese official pledged to halt the ivory trade in the country, but as of yet has not provided details on how the ban will be implemented.