By Katie Nelson
Three Chinese nationals have been charged with possession of specially protected resources after they were caught carrying a total of 14 rhino horns and some leopard skin as they were boarding a flight from Namibia to Hong Kong.
Africa Geographic reports that the three men were arrested around 7:40 a.m. on March 23 when their suitcases were scanned and the horns were found wrapped in plastic and foil, tucked between clothes. The men arrived in Namibia on tourists visas from China on March 12 and had visited several times before, according to their passports. Detective Chief Inspector Berry De Klerk of the Namibian police estimated that the rhino horns are valued around N$41,000 per kilogram.
De Klerk said that it's unclear whether the rhino horns came from Namibia or Zambia, where the men had also been. He added that the suspects, aged 53, 49 and 30, had likely committed the same crime in the past and got away with it.
All rhino species, with the exception of the Southern white rhino, are critically endangered, according to WildAid:
"In 2008 poaching started to rise and last year the world witnessed record levels of rhino poaching in South Africa and Zimbabwe with the main markets identified as Vietnam and China. In 2012, a record 668 rhinos were killed for their horns in South Africa. Already by early November 2013, over 860 rhinos have been killed.
While tens of millions of dollars are spent annually on studying and protecting rhinos in the wild, since the 1993 interventions only a few hundred thousand dollars has been spent on addressing the underlying demand for rhino horn that drives poaching."
In the past year there have been numerous accounts of smugglers brining endangered animals into China. According to a New York Times article from 2012, approximately 25,000 rhinos remain in the wild, and Africa's elephants "are being slaughtered at the highest rate in two decades", creating a "trail of blood" from Africa to "Chinese showrooms and private collections".