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Laotian arrested for alleged attempt to export ivory he took from Japan zoo

Ivory from African elephants and other items banned from international trade that former zookeeper Lam Ouan Khomgsavanh tried to export are seen at the Narita International Airport in the Chiba Prefecture city of Narita, on Jan. 14, 2020. (Mainichi/Tadakazu Nakamura)

NARITA, Chiba -- A Laotian man was arrested Jan. 14 on suspicion of trying to take ivory obtained from the corpses of African elephants buried at a zoo where he once worked, as well as other materials from rare animals, out of Japan via Narita International Airport east of Tokyo, police said.

According to Chiba Prefectural Police's Narita International Airport Police Station, Lam Ouan Khomgsavanh, 27, is accused of violating the Customs Act for attempting to export a total of 227 items, including elephant tusks, without permission when he was about to depart Japan from Narita airport to Laos on July 4, 2019. He is a former employee of Fuji Safari Park in the city of Susono, Shizuoka Prefecture, central Japan, where he is a resident.

According to the Tokyo Customs' Narita branch, his carry-on backpack and the baggage he consigned to the hold contained 13 pieces of ivory, the longest of which were about 60 centimeters long, tail hairs and nails belonging to Asian elephants, as well as other items. Of the 227 items, 174 including ivory are listed as protected material in the Washington Convention, which effectively prohibits their international trade to protect wild animals and plants.

Khomgsavanh was quoted as saying, "I intended to display them at home and sell them to acquaintances." He worked as an elephant attendant at the park from Dec. 2015 to June 2019. To get the tusks, he reportedly dug up elephant carcasses temporarily buried to make skeletal specimens, and obtained their hairs by gathering strands that fell off them in their enclosure.

An employee of the Fuji Safari Park told the Mainichi Shimbun, "As we are currently under investigation, we wish to refrain from commenting on the case."

(Japanese original by Tadakazu Nakamura, Narita Bureau)

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