SARS makes R115.6 million rhino horn bust

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Rhino horn worth R115.6 million has been discovered at OR Tambo International Airport, according to the South African Revenue Service (SARS).

A total 41 pieces of rhino horn were valued at R115.66 million in a consignment declared as “fine art” on Tuesday by customs teams aided by detector dogs.

SARS said the consignment of six boxes, containing the horns that had been concealed in carbon paper and foil, was destined for Kuala Lampur.

The South African Police Services’ Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations (the Hawks) have been alerted of the incident. In addition, a criminal case has been registered with the South African Police Service (SAPS) for further investigation.

Meanwhile, SARS customs officials also found abalone valued at close to R1 million, destined for Hong Kong, and ephedrine valued at R600 000, which had been hidden in two printer cartridges and destined for Madagascar.

SARS Commissioner Edward Kieswetter lauded officials for Tuesday’s finds.

“Criminal and illicit economic activities are rife and result in billions of Rands of losses in tax and customs revenue to the fiscus. In addition, it does seriously harm to our domestic economy. I am therefore very pleased with the success at ORTIA by our customs officials.

“I wish to express sincere appreciation to our customs officers for this diligence in fighting these unacceptable criminal activities,” he said.

Kieswetter issued a stern warning to those who are engaged in criminal syndicate work.

“We will spare no effort in confronting and dealing with any criminal acts that threatens the well-being of our country and depriving our future generation from witnessing the beauty of nature as represented by our rhinoceros. We will not rest until all are caught,” he said.

OR Tambo International is a major transit point for illegal wildlife products, drugs and currency, with busts and seizures a regular occurrence.

South Africa is home to about 80% of the world’s rhino population, and although poaching continues, the numbers have dropped. Earlier this year the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries reported a “significant decrease” in poaching, partly attributed to ongoing anti-poaching work.



Statistics released in February by the Department showed 594 rhinos poached in South Africa in 2019 – 225 less than in 2018 and well down from the thousand plus recorded in 2014. That year saw 1 215 rhino poached – the highest since poaching statistics started being kept in democratic South Africa.