Maputo — The Mozambican police last week seized 17 rhinoceros horns in the neighbourhood of Tchumene, in the southern city of Matola, according to a report on the independent television station STV.
The horns were in a Toyota Land Cruiser which was supposedly being driven to the northern city of Pemba. They were hidden inside the lining of the vehicle's boot.
There were three people inside the vehicle when the police swooped. The driver, Chabane Abuchir, was wearing a T-shirt of the mobile phone company Movitel, and claimed to be a Movitel worker. There were 14 Movitel pre-paid cards in the Toyota, which the police believe were to have been offered as bribes.
Abuchir and his two companions, Cipriano Monteiro and Manuel Samuel, said they knew nothing about the rhino horns hidden in the boot.
Abuchir said some Vietnamese friends had brought him from Pemba to Maputo specifically to pick up the Toyota and drive it back to the north.
The police found a water bill in the car made out to the company Sociedade Wink Koon, Ltd., believed to be where the Vietnamese work.
The spokesperson for the Maputo Provincial Police Command, Emidio Mabunda, said efforts are under way to detain the Vietnamese owners of the car. “Right now we cannot say where the horns came from, and what was the final destination, but we have information that the vehicle crossed the Limpopo river before reaching Maputo”, he said.
Since the rhinoceros is extinct in southern Mozambique, it is more than likely that the 17 horns were hacked from the corpses of rhinos slaughtered in South Africa's Kruger National Park.
The problem for traffickers is moving the horns to Vietnam, where powdered rhino horn is used as a cure for everything from hangovers to cancer. Several recent attempts to smuggle horns through Maputo International Airport have been detected, and so the traffickers may have felt they would be more likely to evade detection if they used a northern airport such as Pemba.