Malaysia has seized elephant tusks worth 2.4 million ringgit (ê760,000) from South Africa in the first haul of smuggled ivory destined for the Southeast Asian country, officials said Tuesday.
The tusks weighing some 500 kilogrammes (1,100 pounds) were discovered during inspections at the busy Port Klang in central Selangor state, said Azis Yacub, the state's customs director, in a statement.
Recently, Malaysia has seized several large shipments of African ivory, but all were destined for other countries, making Friday's haul "an unusual development," according to wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.
The latest shipment from Cape Town was declared as carrying "polyester and nylon strand matting," but television set boxes, containing the tusks, and some used tyres were found in the back of the container, Azis Yacub said.
The shipping manifest listed a Malaysian company as importer and authorities were investigating the case, he added.
TRAFFIC said arrests and prosecutions should follow the haul and warned other regional countries to be on the alert as smugglers will seek other routes.
"Malaysia has ramped-up its efforts to stem ivory smuggling through the country and that's great news," said Kanitha Krishnasamy, an official with TRAFFIC Southeast Asia.
"Now thorough diligent investigations both in Malaysia and South Africa, arrests and prosecutions must follow."
Malaysian customs made four large ivory seizures of an unprecedented total of some six tonnes in 2011, according to TRAFFIC. End-use markets include China and Thailand.
In December, TRAFFIC called 2011 the worst year for African elephants because of a record number of large ivory hauls globally, weighing an estimated 23 tonnes and representing more than 2,500 elephants.
Ivory smuggling has increased sharply since 2007, TRAFFIC said.