The Minister of Environmental Affairs, Dr Edna Molewa, has welcomed the arrest of an alleged rhino horn smuggler at the OR Tambo International Airport on Tuesday, 25 July 2017.
“The arrest of the 24-year-old woman, who was in transit to Hong Kong from Lusaka in Zambia via South Africa, is an indication of the determination of our investigators on the ground to nip the illicit trade in wildlife, particularly the smuggling of poached rhino horn, out of Africa,” said the Minister.
The investigation and arrest at OR Tambo on 25 July 2017 of a Chinese national was the result of collaboration between officials from the SAPS, Customs division of the South African Revenue Services, security screening companies and Environmental Management Inspectors (Green Scorpions) of the Department of Environmental Affairs, based at OR Tambo International Airport. The rhinoceros horn was confiscated and will be subjected to genetic profiling by the Forensic Science Laboratory of the South African Police Service (SAPS), to determine the origin of the rhinoceros horn or possible linkages with other investigations.
Eleven rhino horn weighing 23kg were confiscated. The woman will appear in the Kempton Park Magistrate’s Court on Thursday, 27 July 2017, on charges related to the smuggling of rhino horn.
Minister Molewa, in a media briefing on 24 July 2017 on the successes related to the implementation of the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros in South Africa, had indicated that the Green Scorpions continue their collaboration with other government agencies, such as SARS customs officials, in order to combat the illegal import and export of wildlife products.
There has been a marked increase globally during 2017 in the number of rhino horn detections and seizures at ports. We have also seen this trend in South Africa as well with 5 such detections already having taken place at OR Tambo International Airport this year. This incident on 25 July 2017brings the number of seizures to six for 2017
In May 2017, 7 kg of Rhino Horn and Pieces were hidden in tea bags and found at Swissport Cargo / Qatar Airlines. On 21 May 2017, 13.2 kg of Rhino Horn was found in a box booked in as additional baggage. Unfortunately, in this case the passenger had left South Africa and could not be arrested. On 11 June 2017 two Chinese passengers en route to Hong Kong, China with Turkish Airlines were arrested each with about 12kg of Rhino Horn in their check-in baggage. And again on 14 June 2017, a Vietnamese passenger was arrested en route to Hong Kong, China with Cathay Pacific flight as he was found with 5 Rhino Horns in his check-in baggage.
The National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 2004 (Act No. 10 of 2004) (Biodiversity Act), requires that the original documentation from the country of origin must accompany a consignment. If there is no such original accompanying documentation, an import permit issued in terms of the Biodiversity Act and in accordance with the provisions of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), is required.
Upon conviction in terms of the Biodiversity Act, a person is liable to:
(a) a fine not exceeding R10 million, or a fine equal to three times the commercial value of the rhinoceros horn in respect of which the offence was committed, whichever is the greater; or
(b) an imprisonment for a period not exceeding 10 years, or
(c) both such a fine and such imprisonment.
“The action of alert officials at the Airport on Tuesday is to be applauded. It is a feather in the cap of all those investigators involved,” said the Minister.