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ARUSHA, Tanzania – (AFP) – A Tanzanian businessman was charged Friday with smuggling more than a thousand elephant ivory tusks, officials said.
“Selemani Isanzu Chasema, in his 50s, is believed to have exported 781 tusks through Malawi,” in May, prosecuting attorney Tumaini Kweka told AFP.
Chasema, who denied the charges, was arrested earlier this month in Tanzania’s commercial capital Dar es Salaam with 347 elephant tusks.
If found guilty, he could face a minimum of 15 years in jail.
Poaching has risen sharply in Africa in recent years, with gunmen wiping out whole herds of elephants as well as targeting rhinos.
The illegal ivory trade, estimated to be worth between $7 and $10 billion (5.37 and 7.67 billion euros) a year, is mostly fuelled by demand in Asia and the Middle East, where elephant tusks and rhinoceros horns are used in traditional medicine and to make ornaments.
Earlier this month US President Barack Obama signed an executive order launching a $10 million (7.7 million euro) bid to cut wildlife trafficking in Africa.
But such sums are dwarfed by the potential profits from large scale shipments such as those that have recently been seized.
Ivory trade is banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).