Johannesburg - Police arrested a man in possession of three rhino horns at the OR Tambo International Airport on Friday night, the eve of a massive international CITES conference.
Officials at the airport discovered the horns through an X-ray of his bag, Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said on Saturday
The horns weighed 9.4kg and were concealed in a box in a bag allegedly belonging to a Chinese national.
He was arrested and is in custody at the Edenvale police station and is expected to appear in the Kempton Park Magistrate's Court on Monday.
DNA testing will be conducted on the horns and an interpreter will be arranged for the man’s court appearance.
His initial explanation was that he obtained the horns in Swaziland.
''We welcome this arrest,'' said Albi Modise, spokesperson for Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa.
''And I think it begins to show how effective our systems are in terms of flushing out individuals who are linked or are found to be linked to illegal wildlife trade practices,'' said Modise by telephone shortly before President Jacob Zuma delivered the opening address at the CITES 17th Conference of the Parties in Johannesburg.
The Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is a legally binding agreement which aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
Rhino pulled back from extinction
South African programmes and policies have pulled the rhino back from extinction, but alarm bells are ringing again in the face of increased poaching, particularly in the world famous Kruger National Park.
Trade in rhino horn is currently illegal in South Africa and rhino poaching was declared a National Priority Crime in 2014.
Earlier in September Molewa said a total of 414 alleged poachers had been arrested in South Africa since 1 January 2016. Of those, 177 were in the Kruger National Park, and 237 in the rest of the country.
Nationally, 702 rhino were poached since the beginning of 2016 - a decrease from 796 between January and July 2015.
But this comes amidst a 27.87% increase in the number of illegal incursions into the park - 2 115 for the first eight months of 2016.
Smugglers are known to take advantage of back routes to border hop from the park between southern African countries and massive anti-poaching efforts include 1400 field rangers, and air wings, and special monitoring at border posts out of South Africa.
Cites currently regulates trade in over 35,000 species of wild animals and plants.
South Africa was a founder member in 1975.