422 elephant tusk pieces seized in Thailand
Thai authorities have seized 422 elephant tusk pieces and arrested a Gambian man suspected of smuggling the ivory into Bangkok's main airport.
The tusks were hidden in a shipment listed as unprocessed gemstones, customs department director-general Kulit Sombatsiri said.
He said the parcel was examined because items from Malawi are regarded as high-risk for smuggled goods, and an ivory seizure last year had involved tusks from Mozambique which were similarly concealed.
Mr Kulit said the seizure of 33kg (726lbs) of smuggled ivory worth around £390,000 was the first in Thailand this year.
Thai customs officials last year confiscated more than 1,200 kilograms (2,640lbs) of ivory in nine separate cases.
Sainy Jagne, 41, of Gambia, was arrested in Bangkok on Sunday when he allegedly attempted to pick up the contraband, Mr Kulit said.
He faces charges of violating customs and wildlife protection laws.
The customs official did not say where the smuggled ivory was being sent or if other people were suspected of involvement.
There is an almost total international ban on the trade in ivory.
Poachers have killed tens of thousands of African elephants for their tusks in recent years to meet demand for ivory in Asia, putting the species at great risk.
Thailand is a major transit hub and destination for smuggled tusks, which are often carved into tourist trinkets and ornaments. The biggest demand comes from China.
Last year, the wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic praised Thailand for a huge drop in sales of ivory items, as a result of an official crackdown aimed at shedding the country's image as a centre for the illicit trade in wildlife goods.
Thailand was once considered to have the largest unregulated ivory market in the world, prompting the country to bring in new laws and amend existing ones in in 2014 and 2015 to tackle the problem.
The Elephant Ivory Act regulates domestic ivory markets and criminalises the sale of African elephant ivory.