DEA: 6 key rhino horn busts at OR Tambo show 'determination to nip illicit wildlife trade'

2017-07-27 12:45 - Kavitha Pillay
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Cape Town - Eleven rhino horn weighing 23kg were confiscated at OR Tambo International Airport on Tuesday 25 July, and a woman was arrested for allegedly smuggling the rhino horn to Hong Kong.

The Minister of Environmental Affairs, Dr Edna Molewa, has welcomed the arrest of the alleged rhino horn smuggler at SA's busiest airport.

“The arrest of the 24-year-old woman, who was in transit to Hong Kong from Lusaka in Zambia via South Africa, is an indication of the determination of our investigators on the ground to nip the illicit trade in wildlife, particularly the smuggling of poached rhino horn, out of Africa,”  says the Minister.

ALSO SEE: +40k tonnes of rhino horn in hand, DEA confident it can regulate domestic trade

The investigation and arrest of the Chinese national was the result of collaboration between officials from the South African Police Service (SAPS), Customs division of the South African Revenue Services, security screening companies and Environmental Management Inspectors (Green Scorpions) of the Department of Environmental Affairs, based at OR Tambo International Airport.

The rhino horn was confiscated and will be subjected to genetic profiling by the Forensic Science Laboratory of the (SAPS), to determine the origin of the rhinoceros horn or possible linkages with other investigations.

The woman will appear in the Kempton Park Magistrate’s Court on Thursday, 27 July, on charges related to the smuggling of rhino horn.

MUST-SEE: SA sees 'slight decrease' in rhino poaching in 2017

On Monday 24 July, Molewa shared successes related to the implementation of the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros in SA, saying that the Green Scorpions continue their collaboration with other government agencies, such as SARS customs officials, in order to combat the illegal import and export of wildlife products.

“The action of alert officials at the Airport on Tuesday is to be applauded. It is a feather in the cap of all those investigators involved,” says the Minister.

Molewa also reported on Monday that there has been a "slight decrease" in poaching nationally from January 2017, saying "a total of 529 rhino have been poached since January 2017, compared to 542 in the same period for 2016, representing a decrease of 13 rhinos."

"There has been a marked increase globally during 2017 in the number of rhino horn detection and seizures at ports. We have also seen this trend in South Africa as well, with 5 such detection already having taken place at OR Tambo International Airport this year," says Molewa.

Rhino horn detection and seizures at ports for 2017:  

  • 25 July  - a 24-year-old woman, who was in transit to Hong Kong from Lusaka in Zambia via South Africa, caught with 11 rhino horn weighing 23kg. 
  • On 14 June 2017, a Vietnamese passenger was arrested en route to Hong Kong, China with Cathay Pacific flight as he was found with 5 rhino horns in his check-in baggage. 
  • On 11 June 2017 two Chinese passengers en route to Hong Kong, China with Turkish Airlines were arrested each with about 12kg of rhino horn in their check-in baggage.
  • On 21 May 2017, 13.2 kg of rhino horn was found in a box booked in as additional baggage. Unfortunately, in this case the passenger had left South Africa and could not be arrested.
  • In May 2017, 7 kg of rhino horn and pieces were hidden in tea bags and found at Swissport Cargo/ Qatar Airlines. 
  • In Feb 2016, undisclosed seizures made due to joint operation with the DEA and INTERPOL’s global Operation Thunderbird.

The National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act requires that the original documentation from the country of origin must accompany a consignment.

If there is no such original accompanying documentation, an import permit issued in terms of the Biodiversity Act and in accordance with the provisions of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), is required.

Upon conviction in terms of the Biodiversity Act, a person is liable to:

  • Aa fine not exceeding R10 million, or a fine equal to three times the commercial value of the rhinoceros horn in respect of which the offence was committed, whichever is the greater; or
  • An imprisonment for a period not exceeding 10 years, or
  • Both such a fine and such imprisonment.

Long-term sustainability interventions

The DEA has put in place a number of long-term sustainability interventions including the proposed regulatory measures for the Domestic Trade in Rhino Horn, in an attempt to decrease rhino poaching.

Stating the requirements for the legal export of rhino horn - especially regarding the upcoming rhino horn online auction - micro-chipping, an increase of intensive protection zones, getting local communities involved as well as international and regional collaboration, are some of the ways the DEA is addressing rhino poaching and illegal rhino horn trafficking. 

SEE: +40k tonnes of rhino horn in hand, DEA confident it can regulate domestic trade

While major concerns have been raised about the online rhino horn auction that is set to take place in August this year, the DEA states that it does not allow rhino horn to be traded internationally.

The DEA also issued a statement with a compliance warning, to make the parameters of the sale clear, saying "international trade in rhino horn is, and remains, illegal, and steps will be taken against any individual or group attempting to illegally move rhino horn purchased on the domestic market out of the country."

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