Maputo — The Philippines customs authorities on Friday sized six rhinoceros horns at the port of Manila, hidden inside a consignment of cashew nuts from Mozambique.
Cited by the Philippines press, Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon said the horns weighed about 13 kilos, and are valued at 72 million Philippine pesos (1.7 million US dollars). The horns arrived at the Manila International Container Port on 25 August, but it was only on Friday that they were discovered, hidden inside 300 sacks of cashew nuts.
"The seizure of these rhinoceros horns today should serve as a warning to ill-minded traders that the Philippines is no place for them to indulge in their illicit trade," Biazon said.
The import of the rhino horns was undeclared, which was a violation of the Philippines Tariff and Customs Code and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Faura and Flora (CITES), he said.
"We strongly condemn the smuggling of endangered species because it causes irreparable damage to nature and environment," Biazon told reporters.
Deputy Commissioner Danilo Lim said the shipper of the cashews, Chisteva Import and Export of Mozambique, did not file an entry for its consignee and broker, which raised suspicion among Customs intelligence agents that the import was illegal. Hence the inspection of the cashew nuts, during which the rhino horns were found.
Chisteva may be a fictitious company - AIM has so far been unable to verify the existence of any company in Mozambique with that name
Chris Shepherd, deputy regional director for the global wildlife monitoring network Traffic, said the only previous known smuggling through Manila was two years ago when two white rhino horns were found among seized elephant tusks.
He said it was "very likely" more rhino horns were illicitly passing through Philippine ports citing its growing reputation as a way point for large illegal shipments of Asian reptiles and other wildlife.
"The Philippines would not have been the end destination. It would have been Vietnam, and possibly China," Shepherd added.
The reports do not state which Mozambican port was used to export the bags of cashew nuts. The horns are unlikely to have come from any Mozambican animals - the most probable source is South Africa. 448 rhinos were killed in South Africa in 2011, and 373 are known to have fallen to poachers in the first eight months of this year.
Mozambicans are known to have been involved in poaching rhinos in South Africa's Kruger National Park. Earlier this year, a South African court sentenced three Mozambicans to 25 years in prison for their part in the slaughter of rhinos.
Rhinos are dying because of the singularly idiotic belief that powdered rhino horn can cure diseases including cancer and malaria. Indeed, medieval Chinese pharmacists prescribed rhino horn for ailments ranging from headaches to gout to possession by demons.
Rhino horn is made of keratin, which is also the main component of human hair and fingernails. So a cancer victim would find chewing his fingernails just as effective (or ineffective) a cure as drinking a concoction of powdered rhino horn.