File picture: Bobby Yip/Reuters.

JOHANNESBURG – Two Vietnamese men are in Ugandan custody and will face charges after the authorities intercepted their cargo of 700 pieces of ivory and hundreds of pangolin scales which had been brought in across the border from South Sudan.

The men were detained in the Ugandan capital Kampala on Thursday after the contraband was discovered inside hollowed-out logs, the Daily Monitor reported on Friday.

The Ugandan tax authority (URA) became suspicious after they scanned three six-metre containers carrying timber logs which had crossed the border from South Sudan. The logs had been hollowed out and filled with the contraband before being resealed with melted wax to disguise their content.

An estimated 325 elephants would have been killed to acquire that amount of ivory. The full value of the contraband is yet to be established.

The authorities believe that the men in custody are part of a “very dangerous racket” which takes advantage of conflicts in eastern and central Africa to poach endangered species - and that the ivory and pangolin scales were packed at a smuggling centre in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In a Twitter post, the URA said the two men arrested would be charged with failing to declare prohibited items and concealment of goods.

"We believe they planned to bribe their way to their final destination so we are investigating the shipping agent and other contractors," the agency said.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that poaching has seen the elephant population fall by 110,000 over the past decade to just 415,000 animals.

African News Agency (ANA)