Sat, Feb 16, 2019 - Page 6 News List

HK seizes record rhino horn haul

Reuters, HONG KONG

Hong Kong customs seized a record 40kg of rhino horns worth about HK$8 million (US$1 million) from Johannesburg en route to Vietnam, the latest bust for authorities trying to tackle the rising volume of endangered species trafficked through the Chinese territory.

The seizure came less than one month after customs stopped a massive smuggling operation from Africa, seizing a record quantity of pangolin scales and more than 1,000 ivory tusks.

Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department officials on Thursday said in statement that the rhino horns were found in two check-in carton boxes destined for Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Two men were arrested, they said, adding that it was a record haul for airline passengers.

“It’s shocking to us that today’s 40kg rhino horn seizure equates to about 20 percent of the total amount of rhino horn seized in Hong Kong from 2013 to the end of October 2018,” conservation group WildAid said.

The former British colony is one of the world’s primary wildlife trafficking transit points, supplying an array of wildlife products, including shark’s fin and rhino horn, across Asia and particularly China.

Much of the trade supplies the traditional Chinese medicine sector. For instance, highly valued rhino horn is believed to treat issues from cancer to clearing toxins and curing hangovers.

The territory remains a global black spot, with organized criminal gangs taking advantage of the special administrative region’s geographic location, logistics network and relatively lax enforcement.

All species of rhino are listed under Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which means that it is illegal to trade them internationally. There are less than 29,000 rhinos alive in the wild and in captivity.

China has made significant strides in wildlife protection in the past few years, but it also has formidable profit-driven wildlife business interests.

After pressure from some breeders, the Chinese State Council in October last year said that it would replace a 1993 ban on the trade of tiger bones and rhino horn, opening up exceptions under “special circumstances,” including medical research.

However, in November last year, Beijing postponed the move following widespread protest from conservation groups.

Hong Kong authorities last year raised penalties for smuggling endangered species to a maximum fine of HK$10 million and a 10 year prison sentence.

However, conservation groups have said that wildlife crime is treated less seriously, with prosecutions still paltry.

ADM Capital Foundation, which focuses on environmental challenges across Asia, last month wrote in a report that wildlife trafficking should be incorporated under Hong Kong’s Organised and Serious Crime Ordinance.

Doing so would provide “a powerful disincentive to wildlife criminals and, importantly, would prevent reinvestment of profits into further criminal activities,” the report said.

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