Tag Archives: National Prosecuting Authority

Hong Kong’s return of seized ivory, rhino horn to South Africa hailed

South China Morning Post

08 December, 2013

Hong Kong’s recent return of seized ivory and rhino horns to South Africa has been hailed as a turning point that could lead to the successful prosecution of poachers and smugglers.

The decision was welcomed by wildlife conservation groups as a positive step towards combatting the illegal trade that is decimating the world’s elephant and rhino populations.

The return of 33 rhino horns and hundreds of carved ivory items to South Africa last month was the result of a two-year process that began in November 2011 after Hong Kong customs officers X-rayed a shipment of “scrap plastic” and uncovered a record haul of almost 80kg of rhino horn, 758 ivory chopsticks and 127 ivory bracelets.

Last month, a delegation from South Africa came to Hong Kong for a week to finalise the process. The team included Captain Johan Jooste, from the endangered species team of South Africa’s serious crime unit, the Hawks; a police forensics specialist; and representatives from the Environmental Affairs Department and the National Prosecuting Authority.

Jooste said yesterday: “It’s not just a case of returning the items because the most significant part is that we are now able to use the seized items in our courts as evidence.

“Besides getting the items out of the market, we can learn about smuggling routes and the origin of the rhino horns and ivory.”

The horns and ivory are undergoing DNA analysis, with the results expected early next year, to pinpoint where the elephants and rhinos were poached.

“There’s a strong Asian market for rhino horn, whether it’s for medicinal or other reasons, and it’s been escalating, especially in the past year,” Jooste said.

South Africa is home to about 90 per cent of the world’s rhino population and the number of rhinos poached has increased from 13 in 2007 to 891 so far this year.

Jooste said South Africa was also in talks with other Asian and African nations for the return of seized rhino horns.

The record seizure triggered an immediate investigation in South Africa. A request was sent to Hong Kong justice officials in September 2012 for the return of the seized items under a mutual legal assistance agreement which came into effect in December 2011.

The legal process took another year, with a High Court ruling allowing the rhino horns and ivory to be sent back to South Africa to help in a criminal investigation and possible prosecution.

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department confirmed that it was the first time in 10 years that it had issued reexport licences so that seized rhino horns or elephant ivory could be sent to another country.

Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, welcomed the move, as it could lead to arrests.

Tom Milliken, an elephant and rhino expert with wildlife non-governmental organisation Traffic, said: “We are delighted that DNA analysis of the largest consignment of South African rhino horns ever seized in Asia is finally going to happen. It’s taken over two years for this exchange to transpire so it’s a hallelujah moment.”

First time rhino, ivory products returned: Hawks (South Africa)

Catrine Malan, Jacaranda FM

27 November 2013

A consignment of ivory products and rhino horn with an estimated value of R23 million on the black market is the first such seizure returned to South Africa, the Hawks said on Wednesday.

“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.