Rhinoceros horns worth $1.2m recovered at Changi Airport in largest seizure to date

The 20 pieces of rhinoceros horns weigh about 34kg in total and are estimated to be worth around $1.2 million. PHOTO: NPARKS

SINGAPORE - About 34kg of rhinoceros horns worth around $1.2 million were intercepted at Changi Airport on Tuesday in the largest seizure of rhinoceros horns in Singapore to date.

The horns were detected by officers from airport security and the National Parks Board's (NParks) K9 unit.

They found 20 pieces of the horns in two transit baggage bound for Laos.

The bags' owner, who was travelling through Singapore from South Africa, was arrested immediately, said NParks on Wednesday.

"Rhinoceros are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) and international trade in rhinoceros horns is prohibited.

"Singapore is a signatory to Cites and is committed to international efforts to curb illegal wildlife trade to ensure the long-term survival of these animals," added NParks.

Genetic testing is currently 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, NParks said.

This is to prevent them from re-entering the market as well as to disrupt the global supply chain of illegally traded rhinoceros horns.

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 will be liable to a fine of $50,000 per species (not exceeding $500,000).

He could also be jailed for up to two years.

The same penalties apply to those possessing or transporting parts and derivatives of Cites-scheduled species.

Airport security and NParks’ K9 unit inspected two pieces of baggage and found 20 pieces of rhinoceros horns. PHOTOS: NPARKS

NParks said that Singapore adopts a zero-tolerance stance on the illegal trade of endangered wildlife species as well as their parts and derivatives.

"Our agencies collaborate closely in a multi-pronged approach, which includes working with our international partners, to maintain vigilance in regulating and enforcing against illegal wildlife trade," said NParks.

It added that the community can play a key role as well by ensuring their purchases do not contain animal parts of endangered species, and are not contributing to the demand for the illegal trade of wildlife.

The find on Tuesday is the latest in a string of record seizures of illegally traded wildlife parts in Singapore in recent years.

In 2019, $52 million worth of pangolin scales were detected in a 40-foot container that was being shipped from Nigeria to Vietnam and declared to contain frozen beef.

Inspections by NParks and Singapore Customs officers found 230 bags containing a total of 12.9 tonnes of the scales.

Less than a week later, another 12.7 tonnes of pangolin scales were uncovered in a joint operation by the NParks, Singapore Customs and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority.

Later that year, a record 8.8 tonnes of elephant ivory was seized from a shipment that was passing through Singapore en route from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Vietnam.

The ivory, estimated to have come from nearly 300 African elephants, was worth around $17.6 million.

Another 11.9 tonnes of pangolin scales were confiscated alongside the ivory, bringing the total haul of the scales in 2019 to 37.5 tonnes at that time.

The public can contact NParks if they spot any occurrence of illegal wildlife at cites@nparks.gov.sg.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.