The South African Revenue Services' (SARS) Customs unit scored a massive victory when officials pounced on a consignment of rhino horns worth over R23 million at the OR Tambo International Airport (ORTIA) on Thursday.
In a statement issued on Friday, SARS said the 36 pieces of rhino horn were found after Lizzy, a detector dog, reacted positively to a consignment of so-called "decoration items" in a warehouse.
"Customs officials accordingly cut open eight boxes attached together with bubble wrap. The horns, destined for Dubai, were hid underneath cut laminated wooden sheets in four of the boxes which were otherwise filled with doormats and decorative items," said SARS spokesperson Sicelo Mkosi in the statement.
He said the consignment weighed 116kg, with an estimated value at R23 200 000. The street value of these horns is assumed to be much higher.
"The inspection at the warehouse formed part of an initiative to increase enforcement activities on cargo for outbound flights, following recent reports that rhino horn, originating from South Africa, has been detected in the Far East. This initiative is continuing," he added.
SARS said the South African Police Services (SAPS) and the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations (HAWKS) were alerted, and a criminal case was registered for further investigation.
Environmental Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane welcomed the development, saying it was a significant achievement for enforcement agencies working to rid the airport - and the country - of wildlife-related crimes.
The SAPS has indicated that the seizure was part of an ongoing operation into ridding the airport of criminal activities following the recent confiscation of rhino horn originating from Southern Africa in the Far East.
"The actions of the multi-disciplinary team, comprising members of the police, the Department of Environmental Affairs' Environmental Management Inspectorate (Green Scorpions), customs and excise, K9 units and ACSA security are to be commended.
"Their successful efforts to rid our ports of entry and exit of particularly wildlife smuggling is an indication of the ongoing success of the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros approach," said Mokonyane.