A Chinese national attempting to smuggle an illegal stash of five rhino horns was nabbed at Johannesburg's OR Tambo Intertnational Airport on Friday, just two weeks after the world's first online rhino horn auction was held in South Africa.
The passenger and the contraband, said to be the most valuable commodity in the world, were bound for Hong Kong, according to police.
The bust comes just over two weeks after rhino farmer and horn trader John Hume staged the world's first international rhino horn auction, an event which was mired in controversy.
While the source of the seized horns has not yet been confirmed, conservationists and legal experts warned the lifting of the domestic moratorium on rhino horn trade would lead to an explosion in international rhino horn smuggling.
Although the eight-year old domestic moratorium on rhino horn trade was finally lifted in April this year, it is still illegal to move rhino horn across international borders.
According to a set of photographs supplied by police, at least one of the horns was marked with a set of numbers that appear to reference a microchip number.
If a microchip was removed from the horn, a DNA profile test will have to be undertaken at the RHODIS VGL facility at Ondersterpoort to determine if the origin had ever been legally profiled by its owner.
Police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo said customs agents and police responded to information about a suspicious bag that was bound for Hong Kong.
"After making a positive identification, the agents intercepted the bag and its owner at the boarding gate. A physical search of the bag was conducted, which led to the discovery of five rhino horn that had been wrapped in foil" Naidoo said.
The passenger was arrested and the horns were handed over to the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations (Hawks) for further investigation.
A Chinese male appeared in the Kempton Park Regional Court on Monday morning in connection with the incident, and was remanded for a formal bail application on September 29th.
In a separate incident on Saturday, a team of agents arrested a Brazilian passenger allegedly carrying drugs suspected to be cocaine. He was entering the country on a flight from Sao Paulo.
Collectively, both hauls are estimated to be worth more than R6 million.
"SARS Customs officials and the K-9 unit conducted a full rummage on-board a flight from Sao Paolo, and interviewed passengers", Naidoo said.
"It was discovered the suspect had no tags on his luggage. He was taken to the common search area, where it was discovered that the bag contained black blocks. Preliminary testing indicated that the drug is most likely cocaine. If further tests confirm this, the consignment could be valued at R5 million.
"A further search of the same aircraft was conducted and two socks containing "cocaine bullets" were found in different toilets. Preliminary tests also indicated that the substance is cocaine. No arrests have been made with regards to these drugs" he added.
The intercepts were conducted by a multi-disciplinary team from the South African Police Service (SAPS), South African Revenue Service (SARS), the Department of Home Affairs, Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) and other stakeholders.
"The team's integrated effort and commitment is yielding great successes; both in the prevention as well as the combatting of crime in and around the airport" Naidoo said.