Gold and silver jewelry aren’t the only type of wearable valuables that holds a high amount of worth. To several wealthy people who live in Vietnam owning rhino horn objects is a form of status, so much so that criminal smugglers from Africa are now disguising their theft by creating necklaces and bracelets to get past security in airports.
TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, shared concerning evidence of criminals in South Africa who have come from China and taken on a new way of keeping their rhino horn transporting discreet, by turning it into beads and jewelry so it can pass unnoticed in an airport and is a ready-made product for its Asian destination.
It gets even shadier, as the report shows that they are also going to extreme lengths to disguise the horn, wrapping it in aluminum foil, or even covering it in toothpaste and shampoo to hide its natural smell.
“The domestic manufacture of rhino horn products by criminal networks in Southern Africa is likely to pose significant challenges to already over-stretched law enforcement efforts along the illicit supply chain from Africa to Asia,” said Julian Rademeyer, a project leader with Traffic. “It is essential there are increased resources made available to implement improved detection measures and information-sharing to counteract this alarming new development"
“It is also vital that investigations do not stop at seizures of illicit wildlife products. Rather, seizures should be regarded as the first step in broader, targeted investigations focusing on the networks and key individuals facilitating the trafficking of rhino horn and other wildlife products,” he added
The jewelry disguise is a dangerous new turn for horn smuggling as it is much easier to evade detection when it is such a small item.
“The syndicates no longer want to export whole horns," explained Colonel Johan Jooste, national commander of the Endangered Species Section in South Africa’s Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation. "They have begun cutting them up into what they call ‘disks’ and large beads in line with demand on the market side and in order to avoid detection.”
Market value in parts of Asia can be up to $60,000 per kilogram for a rhino horn, as it is seen as a status symbol, pushing up demand from the emerging middle classes. Just last month the first ever legal online auction of rhino horn happened when a South African breeder sold of his 500-kilograms (1,100 pounds) stockpile as demand is so high.
This worried conservationists as past experience has shown flooding the market with items like ivory and horn doesn't decrease the value of it all.