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Togo seizes tusks of 500 dead elephants hidden in cargo bound for Vietnam

Stringer / Reuters

A Vietnamese man identified as Huu Dinh Khao, left, and two Togolese men stand next to a haul of ivory tusks after being seized by security forces at the port of Lome January 28, 2014. The three men were arrested by Togolese security forces who seized 1.6 tonnes of ivory, found in a container and ready to be shipped to Vietnam. REUTERS/Noel Kokou Tadegnon (TOGO - Tags: CRIME LAW ANIMALS)

Authorities in Togo have seized nearly 4 tons  of ivory —  the tusks from over 500 dead elephants — hidden in containers destined for Vietnam, officials said on Monday. 

Images of elephant ivory being destroyed to send a message to poachers.

The tusks, disguised as cashew nuts and timber, were found late last month, underscoring a flow of ivory to Asia that environmentalists warn is decimating elephant populations and diplomats say also risks fueling conflict in Africa.

Kotchikya Okoumassou, a senior official in Togo's environment ministry, said the tusks were found in two seizures in the port of Lome, one on Jan. 22 and another on Jan. 28.

Some 500 elephants would have been killed in the haul, which has a value of around $8 million on the international market, he added.

Two locals and a man from Vietnam, where the containers were headed to, were arrested but it was not clear where the ivory came from.

"Togo only has 115 elephants so it is clear that the ivory did not come from here," Okoumassou said.

The international trade in ivory has been banned but conservationists say African elephants are being poached at an alarming rate, especially in Central Africa.

The United Nations warned last year that the ivory trade had become an important source of funding for armed groups and was a growing security concern, especially in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad and Gabon.

Elephants are hunted for their tusks, which are mainly used for carvings but are also used in traditional medicines.

The demand mainly comes from Asia, home to growing economies that are increasingly expanding into Africa.