Elephant ivory seizure wins prize for customs officer

One of Britain's largest seizures of smuggled elephant ivory came to light yesterday when Charles Mackay, a customs officer, was awarded a wildlife law enforcement prize by the conservation charity WWF.

Alerted by cargo handlers at Gatwick Airport, he and his team confiscated a third of a tonne of ivory, which was chopped up, carried in trunks and misdescribed on the accompanying paperwork as the green mineral malachite.

Some was decades old and some very fresh, and it represented the remains of about 30 elephants. The ivory was en route from Zambia to Malaysia, flouting an international ban. Customs kept the seizure in May secret, contacted their opposite numbers in Malaysia and allowed some of the cargo to fly on to its destination in the hope that whoever arrived to pick it up could be arrested. But no one ever came, which suggests that the news was leaked to the smugglers.

- Nicholas Schoon