South African customs officials said Tuesday they had seized dozens of rhino horn pieces disguised as art and valued at about $7.0 million.
Customs officials at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg “discovered 41 pieces of rhino horn valued at 115.66 million (South African) Rand in a consignment declared as ‘fine art'”, the customs authority said in a statement.
The cargo which was destined for Kuala Lumpur via Doha, was detected during a routine inspection of warehouses at the country’s largest airport.
Home to about 80 percent of the world’s rhino population, South Africa has become the epicenter of poaching in recent years but has seen a steady decline in numbers of rhino killed since 2014.
In 2019, 594 rhinos were slaughtered for their horns, down from 769 in 2018.
Demand for rhino horn is primarily fuelled by consumers in Asia where it is desired as traditional medicine, an aphrodisiac or as a status symbol.
The horn is composed mainly of keratin, the same substance as in human nails.
According to the conservation organization Traffic, criminal networks of Chinese origin operate in South Africa processing rhino horns into beads, bracelets, bangles and powder to evade detection.