African rhino horn shipment seized at Saigon airport

By Quoc Thang   June 14, 2017 | 10:57 pm GMT+7

The haul was identified as rare white rhino horn with an estimated street value of nearly $352,000.

Customs officers in Ho Chi Minh City seized nearly 4 kilograms (8.8 pounds) of African rhino horn at Tan Son Nhat Airport on Tuesday from two Vietnamese passengers returning from Africa.

The passengers, a 36-year-old man and a 32-year-old woman, were detained after customs officials spotted them acting suspiciously, according to Tien Phong newspaper.

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Customs officials check the luggage. Photo courtesy of Tan Son Nhat Airport Customs.

During a search of their luggage, authorities discovered eight pieces of rhino horn wrapped in aluminum foil and hidden in cookie tins, a box of cosmetics and a ceramic kettle.

“These horns came from rare African white rhinos and could have fetched up to VND8 billion ($352,000),” a customs official said, adding that a criminal investigation is being launched.

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The rhino horns were valued at nearly $352,000. Photo courtesy of Tan Son Nhat Airport Customs.

Tan Son Nhat officials also seized 1.5 kilograms of rhino horn last month, and another batch of nearly 5 kilograms of horn in April. In both cases, the horns were smuggled by Vietnamese passengers returning from Africa.

The sale and purchase of rhino horn is strictly banned in Vietnam, though the country remains one of the biggest consumers of the critically endangered animal.

Animal conservationists say rhinos are being poached in South Africa at a rate of one animal every eight hours to meet demand, mostly in China and Vietnam.

Vietnam has developed an appetite for rhino horn on the back of economic expansion, with many people believing it can cure cancer, a myth conservation groups have scoffed at. Vietnam's last Javan rhino, a rare Southeast Asian species, was found dead in 2010 with its horn hacked off.

Backed by the government, public awareness campaigns have helped discourage the trade, and prices have fallen in recent times.