HONG KONG -- Hong Kong customs officials have seized 33 rhino horns, 758 ivory chopsticks and 127 ivory bracelets. The illegal items were hidden in a shipping container among pieces of plastic and are estimated to be worth $2.2 million.
Yesterday, customs officers selected the container for inspection. It had arrived on a ship from Cape Town, South Africa, and was marked as holding 63 packages of scrap plastic.
Officers detected the rhino horns and ivory objects through an x-ray examination. The horns and ivory had been wrapped in multiple layers of materials and hidden in the rear of the container.
Senior Customs official Lam Tak-fai told RTHK radio that this is the largest quantity of rhino horns ever seized in Hong Kong.
Officials have not disclosed the container’s intended final destination. No arrests have been made, and the investigation is ongoing. In Hong Kong, importing endangered species for commercial purposes carries a maximum fine of $640,000 and two years imprisonment.
Last week, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared Africa’s western black rhino extinct. The announcement came just weeks after WWF confirmed the Javan rhino to be wiped out in Vietnam, with only about 50 now surviving in Indonesia.
Rhino horns are believed by some Asian cultures to cure ailments and are sold in the black market for exorbitant sums. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) reported that Vietnam currently has an especially high demand due to the belief that it can cure cancers.
South Africa is the main locale for poaching because it has the largest population of rhinos. According to WWF, 341 rhinos have been poached in South Africa so far this year — the highest rate ever.
Photos: Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department