Authorities in Saudi Arabia have seized half a tonne of poached ivory in an illegal shipment hidden inside luggage of a passenger on a flight from an African country to East Asia.

Customs agents at King Khaled International Airport in Riyadh found 588 pieces of different shapes and sizes weighing in at around 490kg.

In spite of a 1989 ban on the illegal ivory trade, the continued demand for material within certain circles in Asia has continued to incentivise smuggling operations by criminal gangs.

As a result, thousands of elephants continue to be killed across Africa very year for their tusks, where according to the World Wildlife Fund, the wild population has steadily dropped from between three to five million to approximately 400,000 over the past century.

In January, authorities in Togo found 3.8 tonnes of ivory in containers bound for Vietnam.

African rhinos are also being poached to meet demand from Asia, where the horn has long been used in traditional medicines for the unproven treatment of a variety of ailments.