A South African man has been jailed for two years after being caught at Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) attempting to smuggle 34.7 kg of rhinoceros horns to Laos.
Gumede Sthembiso Joel, 33, pleaded guilty to transporting 18 white rhino horns and two black rhino horns and was sentenced on January 26, 2024.
This represents the heaviest sentence given for the smuggling of wildlife parts in Singapore, and it reflects the country’s zero tolerance to the illegal activity.
The horns are thought to be worth an estimated $9 million on the black market.
Joel was caught at SIN on October 4, 2022, after airport security staff screened two of his bags and noticed items shaped like horns in two boxes.
Upon being found in the airport, he was escorted to an inspection room where the baggage was opened. He was subsequently arrested.
The 33-year-old arrived in Singapore earlier that day on a Singapore Airlines flight from South Africa and had planned to take a connecting flight to Vientiane to meet with a contact.
The government organization National Parks, along with the Commercial Affairs Department of Singapore Police Force and INTERPOL, sent agents to South Africa for further investigations and to gather evidence.
Rhinos are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), of which Singapore is a signatory. International trade in rhinoceros horns is prohibited.
“NParks adopts a multi-pronged approach to enforce against illegal wildlife trade, which includes working with partner agencies to maintain vigilance and carry out enforcement actions, and introducing stiffer penalties for illegal trade in species protected under CITES,” a statement by the National Parks said.
NParks added: “The public can also play their part by not purchasing or using any illegally traded wildlife parts, as demand is the key impetus for the illegal wildlife trade.”
There are only five extant species of rhinoceroses left in the world, and three of them are listed as critically endangered in the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species.