OR Tambo customs officials seize rhino horns worth R117m

File photo: A rhino horn confiscated from poachers by National Park Rangers at Mana Pools in Zimbabwe.
File photo: A rhino horn confiscated from poachers by National Park Rangers at Mana Pools in Zimbabwe.
Getty

Officials at OR Tambo International Airport said on Tuesday that they had seized dozens of rhino horn pieces disguised as art - and valued at about $7 million (about R117 332 250).

They "discovered 41 pieces of rhino horn in a consignment declared as fine art", the customs authorities said in a statement.

The cargo, which was destined for Kuala Lumpur via Doha, was detected during a routine inspection of warehouses at the country's largest airport.

Home to about 80% of the world's rhino population, South Africa has become the epicentre of poaching in recent years, but has seen a steady decline in numbers of rhino killed since 2014.

In 2019, 594 of the animals were slaughtered for their horns, down from 769 in 2018.

Demand for rhino horn is primarily fuelled by consumers in Asia, where it is coveted as a traditional medicine, an aphrodisiac or a status symbol, and can fetch up to $60 000 (more than R1 million) per kilogram. 

The horn is composed mainly of keratin, the same substance in human nails.

According to the conservation organisation Traffic, criminal networks of Chinese origin operate in South Africa, processing rhino horn into beads, bracelets and bangles.

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