Published 4 August 2011

Tough sentences for Vietnamese rhino horn smugglers in South Africa

South Africa, 4th August 2011—two men convicted of illegal possession of rhino horns have been given long custodial sentences by a court in South Africa. 

Two men were given long prison sentences today after attempting to smuggle rhino horn from South Africa to Viet Nam. © Martin Harvey / WWF-Canon

Duc Manh Chu, who was arrested at Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo Airport in June 2010, was found guilty of illegally possessing 12 rhino horns under South Africa’s National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act 10 (NEMBA) of 2004, as well as fraud under the Customs and Excise Act 91 of 1964. 

He received a 12 year prison sentence—10 years for possession of the horns, plus an additional 2 years for fraud under different legislation. Ten years is the maximum prison term for infringing NEMBA and this is the highest penalty handed out to date under it for a wildlife crime. 

The second man convicted, Phi Hung Nguyeng, also arrested at O.R. Tambo Airport in June 2010, was found guilty of illegal possession of six rhino horns and was sentenced to eight years in prison: one year for each horn he possessed, plus an additional two years for fraud.

Both men were arrested 30 minutes before the Opening Ceremony of the World Cup that South Africa hosted in 2010.

During sentencing, Magistrate Manyathi warned rhino poachers and rhino horn couriers that it made no difference whether you killed the rhino or carried the horns, the same penalty would be handed down. 

Demand for rhino horns in Viet Nam lies behind an unprecedented upsurge in illegal killing of rhinos in South Africa since 2008. Asian syndicates regularly use couriers to move contraband rhino horns from Africa to Asian destinations. 

“The stiff penalties handed out today have sent a strong message to rhino poachers and traffickers that their actions will be heavily punished,” said Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC’s Elephant & Rhino Programme Co-ordinator.

Magistrate Manyathi also said that he did not want to one day show his grandchildren pictures of rhinos because all the live animals had been killed by greedy people.

“It’s been a good day in a long battle”, said Milliken, “but the war against rhino poachers continues.”

By 15th July 2011, 218 rhinos had been poached in South Africa—one every 21 hours—an even faster pace than the rhino slaughter in 2010 that killed 333 animals. 

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