SINGAPORE - A South African man who allegedly brought more than 34kg of rhinoceros horns worth $1.2 million into Singapore without a valid export permit was charged in court on Thursday.
Gumede Sthembiso Joel, 32, and the 34.25kg of African rhinoceros horns were intercepted at Changi Airport on Tuesday at around noon.
The horns from Johannesburg, South Africa, were on their way to Vientiane, Laos.
Joel did not have a valid Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) permit or any written permission issued by the authorities in South Africa.
A Cites permit is needed to get approval from the National Parks Board (NParks) for the import, export and re-export of protected specimens. This permit is required for both commercial consignments and personal effects.
Joel was in transit in Singapore when 20 pieces of the horns were detected by officers from airport security and the NParks' K9 unit. He was arrested immediately.
NParks said genetic testing is being carried out at its Centre for Wildlife Forensics to identify which species of rhinoceros the horns came from.
"The horns will subsequently be destroyed to prevent them from re-entering the market, disrupting the global supply chain of illegally traded rhinoceros horns," said NParks.
Under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act, an individual in possession of a Cites-scheduled species travelling through Singapore without a valid Cites permit can be fined $50,000 a species, capped at $500,000, or jailed for up to two years, or both.
The same penalties apply to the possession or transshipment of Cites-scheduled species, including their parts and derivatives.
Joel will be back in court on Oct 27.
The batch of rhinoceros horns intercepted on Tuesday is the latest in a string of record seizures of illegal wildlife parts in Singapore in recent years.
In 2019, $52 million worth of pangolin scales were found in a container that was being shipped from Nigeria to Vietnam. They were declared as frozen beef.
NParks and Singapore Customs officers found 230 bags containing 12.9 tonnes of the scales, which likely came from 17,000 pangolins.
Less than a week later, another 12.7 tonnes of pangolin scales were uncovered at Pasir Panjang Scanning Station in a joint operation by NParks, Singapore Customs and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority.
Later that year, a total of 8.8 tonnes of elephant ivory was seized from a shipment from the Democratic Republic of Congo passing through Singapore en route to Vietnam.
The ivory, estimated to have come from about 300 African elephants, was worth around $17.6 million. Another 11.9 tonnes of pangolin scales were confiscated in the same operation.
NParks said Singapore adopts a zero-tolerance stance on the illegal trade of endangered wildlife species as well as their parts and derivatives.
It added that Singapore collaborates closely with its international partners to maintain vigilance in regulating and enforcing against illegal wildlife trade.
The agency said people in the community can play a key role by not contributing to the demand for illegal wildlife trade. They should avoid buying products that contain animal parts of endangered species.
The public can contact NParks at firstname.lastname@example.org to report illegal wildlife trade.