Environmental Affair Minister, Dr Edna Molewa, has welcomed the arrest of a Chinese national for rhino horn smuggling and the recent sentencing of a poacher to 20 years imprisonment.
"It is encouraging that security and customs and excise officials, working in collaboration with the Green Scorpions and the Hawks, have recorded a number of successful arrests of alleged rhino horn smugglers at O R Tambo International Airport in recent months," Minister Molewa said on Wednesday.
According to the Department of Environmental Affairs, the Chinese national was arrested en route to Hong Kong at OR Tambo International Airport on 8 September. Five rhino horns wrapped in foil were discovered in his luggage. They were handed over to the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations (Hawks) for further investigation.
"The arrest and confiscation of the horns is yet another example of the success of the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros Approach being implemented by government to combat rhino poaching and related crimes in South Africa," said Minister Molewa.
The Minister has dispelled speculation that the rhino horn confiscated were linked to the recent online auction of rhino horn.
"The online auction was closely monitored by an Environmental Management Inspector from the department and horns that were approved for sale during the auction are currently still in the possession of Mr Hume.
"It should, however, be emphasised that as part of the criminal investigation into the arrest and the rhino horn confiscated on Friday, the horns have been sent for DNA testing in order to determine their origin," Minister Molewa said.
She has welcomed the 20-year imprisonment sentence handed down by the Skukuza Regional Court to poacher Mapoyisa Mahlauli.
The Mozambican national was found in possession of a firearm and two rhino horns when he was arrested in the Kruger National Park last year.
The department said the sentence sends a strong message to would-be poachers that they will face the full might of the law.
On 25 July, a 24-year-old Chinese woman was arrested at OR Tambo International for the alleged smuggling of 11 rhino horns while in transit from Zambia to Hong Kong. On 10 August, a 30-year-old Zimbabwean woman was arrested at OR Tambo International Airport for attempting to smuggle two rhino horns amongst electronic items in her suitcase to Hong Kong.
In terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 2004 (Act No. 10 of 2004) (NEMBA) as well as the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a permit is required to possess or transport rhino horn. Non-compliance with the NEMBA permit requirement is a criminal offence in which a person convicted of the crime is liable to a fine not exceeding R10 million, or a fine equal to three times the commercial value of the rhinoceros horn in respect of which the offence was committed, whichever is the greater; or an imprisonment for a period not exceeding 10 years, or both such a fine and such imprisonment.