Return of rhino horns and elephant ivory products from Hong Kong

27 November 2013


A consignment of 33 rhino horns and a large number of elephant ivory products seized by customs officials in Hong Kong in November 2011 were returned to South Africa today.

The return of these will now enable the Hawks to further their investigations and determine the origin of the items by means of inter alia DNA analysis, which may lead to the arrest and prosecution of the alleged rhino and elephant poachers and couriers of the illegal shipment. 

The arrival of the consignment at the OR Tambo International Airport comes as the number of rhino poached in South Africa for their horn this year increased to 891.  A total of number of rhino poached in 2012 was 668.  In 2011 448 rhino were killed for their horn in South Africa.

Since January 2013, 548 rhino have been poached in the Kruger National Park. A total of 89 rhino have been poached in Limpopo, 82 in North West, 79 in KwaZulu-Natal and 77 in Mpumalanga. 

The total number of suspected poachers arrested climbed to 310 this week, an increase of 25 in the past week.   Three alleged couriers have been arrested since the start of 2013. 

The return of the consignment to South Africa augers well for the future development of constructive relations with the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. 

During October 2011 a container allegedly containing waste, parings and scrap of plastic was cleared at the Import and Export customs office of the South-African Revenue Services in Alberton, Johannesburg, to be shipped to Hong Kong.

On 15 November 2011 Hong Kong customs officials seized a container of thirty three (33) rhinoceros horns, seven hundred and fifty eight (758) ivory chopsticks and one hundred and twenty seven (127) ivory bracelets which was shipped from the Cape Town harbour.

An investigation was launched by the Endangered Species Section of the Hawks and the docket presented to the National Prosecuting Authority.

Based on the information collected during the investigation, and the fact that both South-Africa and China are parties to CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), the Director of Public Prosecutions, South Gauteng, applied to The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China for mutual legal assistance.

The request had included that evidentiary material be produced by Hong Kong and that a South African delegation visit Hong Kong in order to have the rhino horns and ivory items returned to South-Africa for further investigation.

The return of such items was the first request of its kind and took place in terms of an agreement between the Government of the Republic of South Africa and the Government of The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China for mutual legal assistance, which was signed on 20 February 2009. The mutual commitment by both countries to fight the illegal exploitation of wildlife crime was evident during the execution of the mutual investigation and strengthened the ties between the two countries.

Following two years of intensive negotiation, a South African delegation, comprising representatives of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations (Hawks), the National Prosecuting Authority, the Forensic

Science Laboratory of the South African Police Service and the Department of Environmental Affairs returned to South Africa on 27 November 2013 with the evidentiary material, as well as the rhino horns and items crafted from ivory. 

The 33 rhino horns weigh 79,9 kg and have a conservative estimated black market value of R23,8 million. The seven hundred and fifty eight (758) ivory chopsticks and one hundred and twenty seven (127) ivory bracelets weighed 22.2 kg and have a conservative estimated black market value of R100 000-00.

A forensic evaluation of the rhino horns by a South African forensic specialist indicated that the victims of the illegal exportation of the horns were not only large adult rhinos, but also very young juvenile or sub-adult rhinos. It has further been determined that some of these horns were harvested from rhino that had previously been dehorned. The investigation had further revealed that all the horns were cut at the growth point, suggesting that the horns were obtained from rhino that had been killed.

The ivory bracelets and chop sticks that were part of the consignment all had similar dimensions indicating that these items were manufactured in the same facility. This fact further suggests that these items were mass produced, most probably utilising sophisticated machinery. The large number of ivory items is evidence that multiple elephants were killed to produce enough ivory to manufacture all these items.

South Africans and members of the international community are encouraged to forward information regarding rhino poaching and related  tip-offs to the anonymous tip-off lines 0800 205 005, 08600 10111 or Crime-Line on 32211.


Rhino poaching statistics

 

South Africa 2010 2011 2012 2013
KNP (SANParks) 146 252 425 548
MNP (SANParks) 0 6 3 3
GP 15 9 1 4
LIM 52 74 59 89
MP 17 31 28 77
NW 57 21 77 82
EC 4 11 7 5
FS 3 4 0 4
KZN 38 34 66 79
WC 0 6 2 0
NC 1 0 0 0
 Total 333 448 668 891

 

Rhino poaching arrests statistics

 

South Africa - Arrests 2013 2012 2011 2010
KNP 117 73 82 67
MNP 0 0 0 0
Gauteng (GP) 8 26 16 10
Mpumalanga (MP) 34 66 73 16
Eastern Cape (EC) 0 0 2 7
Limpopo (LP) 62 43 34 36
North West (NW) 26 32 21 2
Free State (FS) 5 6 0 0
KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) 58 20 4 25
Western Cape (WC) 0 0 0 2
Northern Cape (NC) 0 1 0 0
Total 310 267 232 165

 

For media queries contact:

Albi Modise
Cell: 083 490 2871

Captain Paul Ramaloko
Cell: 079 514 4476

Issued by the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation (HAWKS)