A consignment of rhino horns worth over R23 million ($1.7m) at the OR Tambo International Airport (ORTIA) was on Thursday impounded by officials of the South African Revenue Services’ (SARS) Customs unit, with the help of a detector dog.
“Customs officials accordingly cut open eight boxes attached together with bubble wrap. The horns, destined for Dubai, were hid underneath cut laminated wooden sheets in four of the boxes which were otherwise filled with doormats and decorative items,” said SARS spokesperson Sicelo Mkosi in a statement issued on Friday by SARS.
According to Mkosi, the consignment disguised as containing “decoration items”, had 36 pieces of rhino horn weighing 116kg, with an estimated value at R23.2 million.
“The inspection at the warehouse formed part of an initiative to increase enforcement activities on cargo for outbound flights, following recent reports that rhino horn, originating from South Africa, has been detected in the Far East. This initiative is continuing,” he added.
SARS said the South African Police Services (SAPS) and the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations (HAWKS) were alerted, and a criminal case was registered for further investigation.
Environmental Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane welcomed the development, saying it was a significant achievement for enforcement agencies working to rid the airport – and the country – of wildlife-related crimes.
The SAPS has indicated that the seizure was part of an ongoing operation into ridding the airport of criminal activities following the recent confiscation of rhino horn originating from Southern Africa in the Far East.
The illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth more than $19 billion. Wildlife smuggling has been linked with terrorism, among other criminality. Also, many animals are threatened as a result of wildlife-related crimes, hence the improved focus of governments across Africa on tackling illegal wildlife trade.
Mokonyane noted that the successful efforts of the teams fighting illegal wildlife trade in South Africa, in ridding ports of entry and exit of particularly wildlife smuggling, is an indication that the country’s approach is working.