Rhino horn, ivory products worth R23m returned to SA

2013-11-27 14:20

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A consignment of ivory products and rhino horn worth an estimated R23 million on the black market is the first such seizure returned to South Africa, according to the Hawks.

“It’s a first for us,” Colonel Johan Jooste told reporters in Joburg today.

“We are very proud of everybody pulling together to bring it back.”

The consignment was seized in Hong Kong in November 2011.

It took South Africa more than a year to retrieve the items, he said.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the departments of environmental affairs and international relations, and the police forensic laboratory had combined to formulate an application to get the consignment back.

Thirty-three rhino horns, 758 ivory chopsticks, and 127 ivory bracelets were returned.

“We started engaging with our counterparts in Hong Kong to see if we can root out this smuggling of rhino horn on to the international market,” Jooste said.

“It took us over one year to bring back the items that were seized and also obtain documentary evidence that would give us more background and assist in investigations.”

He said the Hawks looked forward to the next stage of the investigation, which would be forensic evaluation of the rhino horns.

The chopsticks and ivory bracelets seemed to have been manufactured by custom-made machines, but it was too early to make a conclusion, he said.

“We are still investigating but we believe modern technology was used to process ivory items, locally and abroad.”

The environmental affairs department’s deputy director-general, Fundisile Mketeni, said the return of the seized items was a result of ongoing engagements with the Asian bloc.

“When we heard about the consignment last year we visited Hong Kong ... we are doing our part as environmental affairs.”

He said South Africa had an existing memorandum of understanding with China and was now negotiating with Hong Kong.

This was because Hong Kong was the main entry point for goods leaving South African shores.

The department said the number of rhino poached in the country this year was 891 compared with 668 last year, and 448 in 2011.

Since January this year, 548 rhino had been poached in the Kruger National Park, 89 in Limpopo, 82 in the North west, 79 in KwaZulu-Natal, and 77 in Mpumalanga.

The total number of people arrested for rhino poaching reached 310 this week, the department said.

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