Rhino horn smuggling ring bust

A dead rhino at the Finfoot Lake Reserve. R50 million worth of rhino horn was seized in Czech Republic, authorities announced on Tuesday. Picture: Taurai Maduna/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG – Customs officials in the Czech Republic on Tuesday said they smashed a massive rhino horn smuggling ring with links to South Africa.

Last week, authorities arrested 15 people in connection with the syndicate.

They allegedly smuggled horns to Asian markets for use in traditional medicine.

The group is accused of paying hunters from the Czech Republic and other countries to visit South Africa and go on safari hunts.

The hunters acted as tourists.

Authorities said 24 rhino horns were seized at Prague's Václav Havel Airport alone.

The horns are valued at R50 million on the black market.

More than 480 rhino have been killed in South African since the start of 2013.

Two weeks ago, government said it was considering a once-off sale of over 18,000 kilograms of rhino horn in order to lower the incentive for poachers.

Theoretically, increasing the supply will bring down the price of rhino horns meaning poachers will be less willing to take part in poaching.

But many analysts disagree, saying it may simply spur demand for the horns.

The Department of Environmental Affairs said the decision would not be taken lightly.

“It followed an extensive public consultation process, both nationally and internationally.”

The plan can only be approved once it is presented to the next conference of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites).

The next gathering will be hosted in South Africa in 2016.

South Africans are urged to report incidents of poaching to the anonymous tip-off lines 0800 205 005, 08600 10111 or Crime-Line on 32211.

(Edited by Craig Wynn)