7th key rhino horn bust in SA for 2017 as Zim woman nabbed at OR Tambo

2017-08-12 11:40 - Selene Brophy
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 Cape Town - The Minister of Environmental Affairs, Dr Edna Molewa, has congratulated members of the Environmental Management Inspectorate, also known as the Green Scorpions, for their assistance in the arrest of an alleged rhino horn smuggler at the OR Tambo International Airport on Thursday, 10 August 2017.

The DEA says a 30-year-old Zimbabwean woman was arrested after suspicious items were noticed by private security personnel during scanning of her check-in luggage and reported to customs officials who, in turn, called the Green Scorpions to assist with identification of the items.  

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

The horns were found hidden amongst electronic items in a suitcase.

The arrest of the Zimbabwean national in connection with the smuggling and illegal possession of two rhino comes less than two weeks after the arrest of a 24-year-old Chinese woman at OR Tambo International who was in transit from Zambia to Hong Kong.   The Zambian national was arrested transporting 11 rhino horn.

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

SEE: #ShockWildlifeTruths: 'Vague' rhino horn trade draft regulations questioned

Towards the end July Molewa released the latest data which indicates a "slight decrease" in poaching nationallyfrom January 2017.

A total of 529 rhino have been poached since January 2017, compared to 542 in the same period for 2016 - showing 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. 

SEE: Vietnam NGO calls on SA to shut down rhino horn auction 

The illegal trade in rhino horn is at a cut-throat stage across the globe - with the DEA being called on to tackle the root of poaching at kingpin level.

Added to this South Africa’s domestic rhino horn trade parameters as set by CITES to the test, are being tested by the first online rhino horn auction set to take place on 21 August 2017.08.12 While the DEA has affirmed it does not allow rhino horn to be traded internationally, global animal protection organisation, Humane Society International’s (HSI) Vietnam branch, is calling on the SA “to honour its commitment to protect rhinos by refusing permits for an online auction of rhinoceros horns”, saying that it “appears to be targeting buyers from the world’s two largest destinations for trafficked rhino horn, China and Vietnam”.

Humane Society International says that the auction by John Hume - the world’s largest rhino farmer – is listed on a website with both a Vietnamese and Chinese language option in addition to English.

SEE: First online auction of rhino horn to test SA rules as DEA issues compliance warning

The DEA has issued compliance warnings to make the parameters of the sale clear – saying that international trade in rhino horn remains illegal – to dispel any confusion about the auction on social media, especially with advertising being translated into Chinese and Vietnamese. But as yet has not indicated whether it will take such a bold stance against the upcoming auction.

HSI believes “there is a significant risk that horns from this auction, even if purchased legally in South Africa, may end up being trafficked to Asian consumer markets by organised criminal syndicates”.

Similarly, local conservationists have have also raised the question "why anyone would want to buy rhino horn if it could not be onsold illegally to dealers in Asia where it’s worth more per kilogram than gold or heroin?"  

What to read next on Traveller24:

- SA domestic rhino horn trade: Devil in the details?

 #ShockWildlifeTruths: WildAid issues damning report on SA's mixed messages and failure to prosecute

#ShockWildlifeTruths: Rhino horn online auction pros and cons, readers respond