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South Africa seizes rhino horns to be smuggled to Malaysia

South Africa seizes rhino horns to be smuggled to Malaysia

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South African customs officials have seized more than $3.5 million worth of rhino horns at the O.R Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on Thursday.

A shipment of the 18 pieces of horns weighing 63 kilograms (139 pounds) destined for Malaysia was discovered at the airport's courier facilities.

The package was labeled “HP cartridges” but an x-ray scan revealed images resembling horns so the customs officials inspected it to discover the contraband, the South African Revenue Services said in a statement.

This is the fourth rhino horn bust at the airport by customs officials since July last year, with a total of 277 kilograms (611 pounds) of rhino horn worth more than $15 million confiscated, said the statement.

“Those that are determined to destroy the rich natural endowment of our country, which is a common treasure and heritage for all that we should look after for future generations, will be met with the unwavering commitment of our officers to enforce the law,” revenue service commissioner Edward Kieswetter said.

Earlier this week the government announced that rhino poaching in the country had declined by 33% in 2020 partly due to the COVID-19 lockdown regulations restricting movements around the country.

A total of 394 rhinoceroses were poached for their horns in 2020 down from 594 killed in 2019, according to the environment ministry.

It was the sixth consecutive annual decline in the number of illegally killed rhinos as officials wage an intensified fight against poachers.

Improved cooperation with other African countries including Botswana, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Kenya, Namibia, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe was also cited as having played a role in the decline in poaching.

Wildlife activists have warned that the illegal hunting of rhinos remains rife and poachers are becoming more sophisticated with the use of tools like drones.

Although numbers of rhinos illegally killed has declined, the overall rhino population itself has significantly declined, say conservationists.