Significant seizure ahead of World Rhino Day highlights Southeast Asia’s role in wildlife trafficking
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Recent large-scale rhino horn seizures in Southeast Asia point to a grim year ahead for the endangered animal and underscores the urgency for authorities to level up investigations and collaboration to combat the trafficking.
On 9 September, Malaysian authorities seized 50 rhino horns and horn pieces from a vehicle near Kuala Lumpur International Airport and arrested two men. This is the country’s largest rhino horn seizure since 2018. The horns are being forensically tested, and their provenance is being investigated.
With this seizure, more than 3.2 tonnes of horns and an additional 314 whole, partial or fragments of horn have been confiscated in 217 incidents linked to Southeast Asia from January 2010 to September 2021.
More than half of these seizures took place in nine Southeast Asian countries and accounted for almost two-thirds of the total weight of horns seized since January 2010. Brunei was the only ASEAN* country not linked to seizures. The remaining confiscations were made by non-ASEAN countries, implicated along the trade route.
This spotlights Southeast Asia's role in the illicit global trade of rhino horns and how important it is to address both supply and demand here if rhinos are to be saved."
Kanitha Krishnasamy, Director for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia
Across the world, confiscated horns are reported either by the number of individual horns, horn pieces or weight. Countries are implicated as source, transit points or destinations for these trafficked horns.
TRAFFIC’s analysis of publicly reported seizures of horns and horn pieces linked to Southeast Asia between 2010 and 2021 showed fewer separate incidents in recent years but greater weights seized.
Last year a high of 460 kg rhino horns were recovered from 14 seizures, compared to 402 kg horns from just eight seizures in the first nine months of 2021. If this pattern continues, rhino horn trafficking is likely to reach a new all-time high by the end of this year.
The numbers paint a bleak picture on World Rhino Day as rhino populations in the wild continue to plummet due to poaching and trafficking, driven by demand for rhino horns in traditional cures.
“These findings are a cry for authorities to leave no stone unturned. Southeast Asia must go beyond vigilance to in-depth investigations that can uncover the people behind the networks, their finances and their links with other areas of crime,” said Krishnasamy.
She also urged more effective collaboration between source, transit and destination countries as a South Africa-Malaysia link has also become apparent. South Africa has made six seizures since July 2020, all reportedly destined for Malaysia. These six incidents resulted in the confiscation of 393 kg of rhino horn.
The analysis also showed that Viet Nam had been implicated in the most seizures within the region – almost 60% of all 217 incidents since 2010. In 2020 alone, Viet Nam was implicated in eight of the 14 seizures incidents linked to the Southeast Asian region.
Viet Nam also made Southeast Asia's largest single confiscation by weight in July 2021. Customs at Da Nang port found 138kg of horns amongst three tonnes of wildlife bones, including lions. The shipment arrived from South Africa.
As we mark World Rhino Day, Southeast Asia must also seriously confront the issue of rhino horn demand and consumption in the region and embark on efforts to address the enablers and drivers of this illegal trade.”
Trinh Nguyen, TRAFFIC’s Director for Viet Nam
*ASEAN: Association of Southeast Asian Nations whose membership includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Lao PDR, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam.