Rhino horn smugglers given maximum sentence | WWF
Rhino horn smugglers given maximum sentence

Posted on 10 August 2011

Two Vietnamese men convicted of attempting to smuggle rhino horns out of South Africa were sentenced last week to the longest prison terms possible under the country’s national wildlife law. The men were discovered by security personnel at Johannesburg’s international airport in June 2010 with 18 rhino horns in their luggage.
Two Vietnamese men convicted of attempting to smuggle rhino horns out of South Africa were sentenced last week to the longest prison terms possible under the country’s national wildlife law. The men were discovered by security personnel at Johannesburg’s international airport in June 2010 with 18 rhino horns in their luggage.

One man, who concealed twelve of the horns, was given the maximum penalty of ten years in jail for violating South Africa’s biodiversity act, as well as two additional years for customs fraud. The other man was sentenced to eight years for fraud and the possession of six horns.

During the sentencing, the presiding magistrate emphasized that trafficking of rhino horn would be punished as severely as poaching itself. The case marks the first time that South Africa has imposed the maximum sentence under its biodiversity protection legislation.

“WWF South Africa commends the South African judiciary for the strong action it has taken. We hope that this will set a precedent for sentencing in rhino and other biodiversity-related crimes as we need to send a strong message that the pillaging of South Africa’s natural heritage will not be tolerated,” said Dr Morné du Plessis, CEO of WWF-South Africa.

Already this year 250 rhinos have been killed in South Africa, with the majority of attacks occurring in world famous Kruger National Park. Demand for rhino horn has increased in recent years, particularly in Vietnam where it has been touted as a cancer treatment.

Next month in South Africa, a landmark rhino poaching trial involving an eleven-member syndicate is set to begin in the country’s High Court. The defendants in that case, including a wealthy couple, two veterinarians and a pilot, are suspected of killing hundreds of rhinos over the past few years. The carcasses of 20 rhinos were unearthed on the property of the couple, who operate safari tours.

“If convicted of poaching or trafficking, all perpetrators should be punished to the full extent of the law,” said Dr Joseph Okori, WWF's African Rhino Manager. “Wildlife criminals are as dangerous and organized as those trafficking drugs, arms and people.”

In addition to being illegal under South African legislation, trade in rhino horn is prohibited under international law. Next week, governments will be gathering for a key meeting convened under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). WWF is urging countries implicated in the rhino horn trade to bolster law enforcement efforts in order to disrupt criminal syndicates involved in poaching and illegal trade. It is also calling on governments to close down markets where illegal wildlife products such as rhino horn and elephant ivory are sold openly.

Black rhinos (Diceros bicornis); Hluhluwe Game Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal Province, Republic of South Africa
© Martin Harvey / WWF