In their largest haul to date, Malaysian authorities seized dozens of rhino horns earlier this month in the nation’s capital city worth an estimated $12 million, reports the Agence France Presse (AFP). Authorities say 50 horns weighing 116 kilograms (256 pounds) were confiscated in Kuala Lumpur on route to Vietnam, where rhino horns are in high demand due to their believed medicinal properties.
The horns were reportedly found in cardboard boxes on August 13 in the cargo terminal of the airport after having been shipped on Malaysian air cargo shipping company Pos Aviation. Authorities were reportedly acting off a tip-off after the cargo was shipped with false documents. Malaysia’s head of wildlife department Abdul Kadir Abu Hashim told AFP it is unclear where the shipment originated from, but it is likely it could have come from Africa.
International trade of rhino horns was banned in 1977 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). However, domestic trade is still allowed in some countries, including South Africa. Rhino horns are chiefly made up of Keratin, the same protein that makes up our fingernails and hair. Horns have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years. Believed to treat a variety of ailments, from fever and rheumatism to hallucinations and typhoid, horns are shaved or ground into powder and dissolved in boiling water for consumption. Despite little scientific evidence pointing to such uses, people are willing to pay up to $300,000 for one horn.
Illegal poaching has decimated rhino populations around the world putting all species under threat of extinction, according to International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Perceived medicinal purposes aside, the IUCN also says recent habitat degradation from invasive species, development, and livestock grazing further threatens the world’s rhinos.
Along with the horns, officials seized other animal bones believed to be from carnivore carcasses such as tigers, bears, or leopards with an estimated value of $122,000.
“This was a very unusual mix of wildlife parts found—rhino horns which were clearly not from Asia and carnivore carcasses which could have originated from the country,” said TRAFFIC’s Acting Southeast Asia Director Kanitha Krishnasamy in a statement. Authorities say they will run DNA tests to determine what each species were illegally transported.
[H/T: Agence France Presse]