Catrine Malan, Jacaranda FM
“It’s a first for us,” Colonel Johan Jooste told reporters in Johannesburg.
“We are very proud of everybody pulling together to bring it back.”
The consignment was seized in Hong Kong in November 2011. It took South Africa more than a year to retrieve the items, he said.
The National Prosecuting Authority, the departments of environmental affairs and international relations, and the police forensic laboratory had combined to formulate an application to get the consignment back.
Thirty-three rhino horns, 758 ivory chopsticks, and 127 ivory bracelets were returned.
“We started engaging with our counterparts in Hong Kong to see if we can root out this smuggling of rhino horn into the international market,” Jooste said.
“It took us over one year to bring back the items that were seized and also obtain documentary evidence that would give us more background and assist in investigations.”
He said the Hawks looked forward to the next stage of the investigation, which would be forensic evaluation of the rhino horns.
The chopsticks and ivory bracelets seemed to have been manufactured by custom-made machines, but it was too early to make a conclusion, he said.
“We are still investigating but we believe modern technology was used to process ivory items, locally and abroad.”
Environmental affairs department deputy director general Fundisile Mketeni said the return of the seized items was a result of ongoing engagements with the Asian bloc.
“When we heard about the consignment last year we visited Hong Kong… we are doing our part as environmental affairs.”
He said South Africa had an existing memorandum of understanding with China and was now negotiating with Hong Kong.
This was because Hong Kong was the main entry point for goods leaving South African shores.
The department said the number of rhino poached in the country this year was 891 compared to 668 last year, and 448 in 2011.
Since January 2013, 548 rhino had been poached in the Kruger National Park, 89 in Limpopo, 82 in the North west, 79 in KwaZulu-Natal, and 77 in Mpumalanga.
The total number of people arrested for rhino poaching reached 310 this week, the department said.