By Alex Mitchley
South African authorities produced a significant first in the fight against rhino poaching when they returned from Hong Kong with poached rhino horns valued at R23 million on the black market.
On Wednesday the team returned from Hong Kong reaping the fruits of a two year long struggle of building relations and investigations that resulted in the return of 33 Rhino horns, 758 ivory chop sticks and 127 ivory bracelets that were smuggled from Cape Town in 2011
The container with the contraband was allegedly listed as containing waste and scrap, was cleared at the import-and-export customs office of the South African Revenue Services in Alberton, Johannesburg. On 15 November 2011 Hong Kong customs officials seized the goods.
Colonel Johan Jooste, the national commander of the endangered species unit within the Hawks, said this operation was a first of its kind and is a major breakthrough in the trafficking of Rhino horn.
“We are learning more about their smuggling tactics and routes,” said Jooste.
A forensic expert revealed that 33 rhino horn weighed a total of 79.9 kg, while the elephant ivory products, weighing a total of 22.2 kg, would fetch around R100 000 on the black market.
Further forensic evaluation of the rhino horn found that not only adult rhinos fell victim to the poaching, but that the horns of young juvenile/sub-adult rhinos were also poached. The horns had been cut at the growth point of the horn which suggests they were obtained from rhinos that had been killed.
Jooste said they had identified three suspects based in Hong Kong and that only continued investigations would reveal who was behind this botched smuggling attempt.
The Hawks believe this consignment is most the result of a large syndicate operation. Jooste confirmed that the products might have been destined for Hong Kong but that alternative evidence points towards Vietnam as being the final destination. More....