Gov't official hunted after ivory haul goes missing

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Mar 03 2010 06:40 PM | Updated as of Mar 04 2010 02:40 AM

MANILA, Philippines - A Philippine wildlife officer is on the run after being accused of stealing about $80,000 worth of confiscated ivory that he was meant to be keeping watch over, a government bureau said Wednesday.

The Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau employee allegedly replaced the elephant tusks, which were impounded after being illegally shipped into the country, with plastic pipes covered with plaster in a bid to hide his theft.

His colleagues initially became suspicious of him after he started spending lavishly, the head of the bureau's wildlife division, Josie de Leon, told Agence France-Presse.

"Somebody had observed that this guy had lots of money. So we... checked our treasures," de Leon said.

When his colleagues checked on the ivory that was meant to be in a government storeroom, they discovered 794 kilograms (1,747 pounds) of tusks with a street value of about $80,000 were missing, de Leon said.

De Leon said the suspect in the robbery was the agency's protected areas superintendent, but she declined to give his name.

The suspect vanished on February 26, the day of the inspection, she said, adding that law-enforcement agencies had been asked to track him down.

The missing tusks were part of a batch confiscated at a Philippine port in June last year.

A Tanzanian delegation is due to arrive in Manila next week to check if the ivory originated from their country and to see if it should be brought back.

Wildlife experts say 38,000 African elephants are killed each year for their tusks -- out of a total estimated population of half a million.

Ivory tusks are usually carved into religious images, ornaments and mahjong tiles in Asia.