What’s Illegal and Masquerades as an Innocent Candy Bar?

Recently, two South African tourists were processing through customs in Macau, en route from Hong Kong. As officials inspected the tourists’ luggage, they came upon 15 boxes of candy bars — 15 really, really heavy boxes of candy bars.

Anything out of the ordinary catches the immediate attention of customs officials, so they took a closer look. Inside the boxes were candy bars in wrappers. Since the boxes weighed a suspicious 75 lbs, the officials began trying to figure out what was going on.

“We tried to use pointed objects to break it. We failed because it was very hard,” customs official Mak Wun Yin told the Macau Daily Times. ”We tried several other methods and at last we soaked it in hot water. After soaking in water, it was easier for us to peel off the outer brown layer and discover that it was actually something white and hard.”

Yes, melting off the coating did the trick. What officials found were a staggering 583 pieces of ivory worth $76,000 that had been carefully cut to candy bar size, dipped in candy coating and sealed in familiar wrappers.  All of it was, of course, intended for the international black market in illegal ivory. Legal trading of ivory was banned by the Convention on Illegal Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 1989.

“Nothing shocks me anymore — especially at how far people will go to engage in illegal wildlife trade,” said Crawford Allan, director of TRAFFIC North America. “Luckily, officials detected the ‘chocolate’ ivory before the traffickers turned a profit. Unfortunately, these incidents are not isolated, and trade in illegal wildlife continues to be a major global problem.”

Disguising illegally poached ivory to sneak it out of the country is a tried and true smuggler’s technique. The candy maneuver isn’t new — between September and December 2012, officials seized more than 90 ivory seals, also called “name chops,” hidden as candy bars.

Ivory is camouflaged in many creative ways. In July 2013, for example, Hong Kong customs officials found 1,148 tusks disguised as timber on a ship outbound from Togo. That same month, officials in Kenya discovered three tons of ivory wrapped in burlap sacks and disguised as peanuts and another ton hidden under a shipment of fish bound for Malaysia.

Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam are considered the primary points of transit for illegal ivory being smuggled from Africa and Asia to Thailand and China. Officials are faced with a constant onslaught of ivory trafficking that’s difficult to control.

“China is the epicenter of demand,” the State Department’s Robert Hormats told the New York Times in 2012. “Without the demand from China, this would all but dry up.”

Worldwide, the illegal ivory trade kills nearly 30,000 elephants every year, netting poachers up to $10 billion annually, according to the World Wildlife Fund. It’s little wonder elephants are struggling to survive. To poachers, they are worth more dead than alive.

Related Stories:

Ivory Trade May Be Banned in Thailand, Saving Elephants

Entire Elephant Family Killed for Ivory

1.3 Tons of Illegal Ivory Seized at Nairobi Airport

Photo credit: Thinkstock

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven29 days ago

thanks for the article.

Sue H.
Sue H.2 years ago

And to think all that imagination could have been used for good, to make this world a better place. So happy they were caught, but so sad that so many elephants are being killed.

jane oldfield
jane Oldfield2 years ago

I too think these sick bastards should get life in prison. Just as sick are the Chinese who buy the damn stuff - they too should get life in prison but the Chinese government don't give a damn about the plight of endangered species or poaching.

Kathleen R.
Kathleen R.2 years ago

Actually I'm all for life in prison, life meaning life, nothing less

Kimberly S.
Kimberly S.2 years ago

Put them in jail for the rest of their lives.

GGma Sheila D.
GGmaSheila D.2 years ago

So sad that greed like this is allowed to go unpunished. That's a slap in the face to all wildife protectors.

Mary L.
Mary L.2 years ago

Esworth L. I'm very atavistic and struggle to live in peace. To have these monsters, they aren't human in my book, murder these elephants and who knows how many others with poison brings out that side in me.

They have also murdered other humans who are trying to protect the wild life. If you are willing to insure their food, shelter, health, please feel free to jail them.

They wouldn't be safe around me.

Esworth L.
.2 years ago

More than one commenter here suggesting the death penalty, otherwise known as judicial murder. Looks like we are not that far from the Dark Ages, although we have done away with judicial torture. Except at Guantanamo Bay, of course.

Tiffany B.
Tiffany B.2 years ago

So horrible that people will go that far to smuggle ivory onto the black market and not care about these beautiful creatures and what they are doing to their population.

Ana Marija R.
Ana R2 years ago

copy&paste Ruth S.