Two arrested for rhino horn smuggling at Hong Kong airport

Durban - The Hong Kong government website revealed two separate incidents of illegal rhino horn seizures at Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA), on Friday and Saturday.

According to the Hong Kong authorities, a 46-year-old male passenger was arrested at HKIA on Friday after he arrived on a flight from OR Tambo International.

Custom agents found two-and-a-half kilograms of suspected rhino horns with an estimated street-value of R820 000 in his check-in luggage. The horns had been wrapped in tin foil and placed inside a food package.

In a separate incident on Saturday, Hong Kong customs officers made a bigger bust, when they seized another 10.5kg of suspected rhino horns. They intercepted a 23-year-old male passenger who had arrived in Hong Kong from Jakarta, Indonesia.

They estimated street value of that stash was just over R3.4m.

Both passengers were taken into police custody and their cases handed over to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department for follow-up investigation.

Under Hong Kong’s Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance, smugglers found guilty of importing or exporting an endangered species without a licence are liable to a maximum fine of around R8.2m and imprisonment for two years.

"What we are seeing in seizures and arrests is not even a drop in the ocean compared to what is moving out of this country and the SADC region undetected," said Chris Galliers, chairperson of the Game Rangers Association of Africa.

"The fact that there have been two separate incidents reported in only two days at one transit point, points to a disturbing trend that trans-national rhino horn traffickers have become increasingly brazen in their approach, and smuggling methods.

"While it is no longer a secret they use networks of couriers and ‘mules’ to move the horns, much like the drug trade, what is of huge concern to us is the quantities that are finding their way onto international flights.

"Despite major efforts on the ground to reduce poaching levels here, significant quantities of horns are still moving through invisible pipelines and getting out the country. Why are these horns not being picked up by customs agents and at the various check-points in South Africa? Some are, but the cases are too few and far between," Galliers said.

"We need to strengthen the integration of key law enforcement agencies and strategically forge a cohesive and comprehensive action plan. It is urgent that our national government expedites the process to the highest level that DNA samples from these seizures are quickly expatriated to South Africa.

"We need to learn more about the origins of the horns, and study the inner-workings of the syndicates behind the illegal trade," Galliers added.