African ruling on rhino horn smuggling could deter local traders

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South Africa's recent ruling against two Vietnamese rhino horn smugglers caught in that country could deter other Vietnamese involved in the trade, an expert in anti-wildlife smuggling said.

On August 4, the Kempton Park Magistrate Court sentenced Chu Duc Manh and Nguyen Phi Hung to 12 and 8 years in jail respectively for possession of rhino horns and fraud, the Vietnamese Embassy in South Africa told Thanh Nien Weekly via email.

The ruling was the stiffest penalty given for rhino crime in South Africa, said Tom Milliken, Elephant & Rhino Program Coordinator at the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

"These are very strong sentences against people who were basically used by the criminal syndicates behind the illegal trade in rhino horns," Milliken said.

The duo was arrested at Johannesburg's O.R. Tambo Airport on June 11 in 2010.

"As a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, Vietnam doesn't tolerate any illegal wildlife smuggling," said Nguyen Trung Kien, Counselor at the Vietnamese Embassy in South Africa, adding that the embassy has taken action to ensure the duo was tried in accordance with local laws.

According to TRAFFIC, ten years is the maximum prison term for violating South Africa's National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act 10 (NEMBA) and the sentence is to date the highest penalty handed out in the country for a wildlife crime.

Milliken said the two men were only couriers and that hopefully the strict verdict would deter others involved in wildlife smuggling.

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"They probably would have been paid something like 5-10 percent of the value of the horns, so others were making the greatest profits.  Thus, these are very strong sentences against people who were basically used by the criminal syndicates behind the illegal trade in rhino horns," he said.

Milliken said he would not give black market rhino horn prices as he believes their publication can lead to further crime or have a corrupting effect upon law enforcement personnel.

By July 15, a total of 218 rhinos had been poached in South Africa so far this year - one every 21 hours - an even faster pace than the rhino slaughter in 2010 that killed 333 animals, TRAFFIC said in a statement on August 4.

A total of 20 poachers have been killed in shootouts in South Africa so far this year, and another 11 poachers injured. A total of 123 individuals have been arrested in South Africa for rhino crime, TRAFFIC said.

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