Vietnam gives record 14 years in jail for trading rhino horns

Nine men and one woman standing behind a fire where elephant ivory and rhino horns have been thrown into
Seized elephant ivory and rhino horns are destroyed by Vietnamese authorities in Hanoi November 12, 2016, photo: Reuters/Nguyen Thanh Cao

A rhino horn trader has been sentenced this week to 14 years in jail in Vietnam, the longest ever prison time for the crime, local conservation group Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV) said Wednesday.

Vietnam is a consumption hub as well as a popular transit point for the multibillion-dollar trade in animal parts. In 2019, customs officials at Hanoi’s Noi Bai international airport discovered 55 pieces of rhino horn, weighing around 125 kilogrammes (275 pounds), carefully hidden in a shipment.

“It was not immediately clear who the cargo belonged to since nobody came to claim it. After investigation, Hanoi police found the man and arrested him in connection with the crime,” ENV said in a Facebook post. “He had been facilitating the imports on behalf of another person who is yet to be found.”

The 36-year-old man received 14 years in jail for trafficking rhino horns. This heavy penalty showed that authorities have begun to give severe punishment to discourage people from wildlife crimes, ENV vice-director Bui Thi Ha said in a statement.

Vietnam and China remain lucrative markets for rhino horns, elephant tusks, pangolins and tiger parts. The trade has decimated rhino populations in Africa to meet demand. The number of rhinos in the wild has declined from half a million to 27,000, according to conservationists.

Authorities have long vowed to stop the illegal wildlife trade, but experts said the black market persists thanks to weak law enforcement.

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