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Czech rhino horn smuggling gang arrested

24/07/2013 11:57:05 24 rhino horns seized

July 2013. Czech customs and police have arrested a rhino horn smuggling gang. 16 people were arrested and charged with smuggling, and 24 rhino horns were seized.

It appears that the gang members posed as hunters in South Africa, where they shot the rhinos on game farms; the horns were then imported to Europe, sometimes using fake documents. The gang planned to export the rhinos to Asia but it appears that they have been seized before they could complete the shipment.

This is not the first time rhinos have been shot, supposedly by ‘big game hunters' who turned out to be working for smuggling syndicates. South Africa changed their rules after discovering that rhino hunting licences had been awarded to Thai prostitutes posing as hunters. Possibly as many as dozens of rhino were shot, not by the Thai girls who thought they were on safari, but by ‘professional hunters. The horns were then given export licences before being shipped to the gang leaders in Asia.

“This seizure shows just how big a problem wildlife trafficking is in the European Union,” said IFAW EU Regional Director Sonja Van Tichelen. “Europol estimates global wildlife trafficking is worth €18- to 26-billion per year. If the EU is to stop the organised criminals involved in wildlife trafficking here in Europe it needs to do more to build law enforcement capacity in the countries where these endangered species live and are at risk.” 

The South African government recently announced that it would apply for legal trade in rhino horn at the next meeting of the Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) CoP (17).

“Illegal trade alone is nudging rhinos to extinction,” said Kelvin Alie, Director of IFAW Wildlife Crime and Consumer Awareness Programme.

“The seizure of so many horns, and the arrest of so many people at one time, throws into stark reality the very real threat to rhino populations. Selling stockpiled horn might make financial sense in the short-term, but is naïve economic simplicity when one considers biological and animal welfare consequences. The South African government needs to thing very carefully about the implications of their plans,” said Alie. 

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