Customs officials in Hong Kong today seized 33 rhino horns that were smuggled from South Africa. This was the largest number of rhino horns ever seized in Hong Kong and one of the largest single seizures of rhino horn globally.
The horns were smuggled from Cape Town, South Africa; a country that just last week reported that 2011 has seen the highest level of rhino poaching ever experienced. A record 341 rhinos have been poached so far this year.
Rhino poaching has been on the rise in Africa and South Asia largely due to high demand for the horn in Vietnam for alleged medicinal products. Law enforcement efforts are increasing, but it is clear that highly organized and very well funded criminals have set up complex poaching and smuggling rings in both southern Africa and throughout Asia.
A Change in Method
Due to the increase in rhino poaching in South Africa, the South African government has ramped up security at airports, employing sniffer dogs that detect smuggled rhino horn as criminals try to sneak it out of the country. However, the rhino horns seized in Hong Kong were found in a shipping container at a sea port. This was the first time Hong Kong Customs seized rhino horn via sea transport.
What is WWF doing?
This past month in South Africa, 19 critically endangered black rhinos were moved from well-known national parks to private land in order to help increase healthy habitat for the rhinos and to keep them safe from poachers.
WWF needs strong commitments in law enforcement from both African and Asian governments to break up the criminal syndicates running these operations. WWF is taking steps to increase security for rhinos:
- Improving security monitoring to protect rhinos from poaching
- Assisting local and international law enforcement to stop the flow of rhino horn
“This seizure bears all the hallmarks of a sophisticated organized crime gang that has shifted its smuggling method to sea freight to avoid detection. The number of rhino horns seized is staggering and the black market value is enormous in Asia. “Governments in Africa and Asia must take these crimes seriously and invest in detecting and deterring the crime syndicates before the rhino runs out of time in the wild.”
- Crawford Allan, Regional Director of TRAFFIC North America