BANGKOK – Thai Customs Department reported Tuesday they have seized 21 unusually large rhinoceros horns worth almost $5 million that were smuggled from Ethiopia at Suvarnabhumi Airport.
Thai Customs officers discovered the horns, weighing almost 50 kilograms (110 pounds), inside hard-shelled luggage bags originating from Addis Ababa.
The bags’ owners, two Thai women who had arrived on separate flights but went to claim the luggage, fled as officers searched their bags and have not been apprehended and an arrest warrant has been issued for them.
Customs officials said the horns are unusually large and pristine.
“The rhino horns we confiscated this time are the most beautiful horns we’ve ever seized from this airport,” the statement said.
It’s the second time in two years that rhino horns have been seized at the airport, with the previous haul being worth around $600,000.
Rhinoceros horns, blood, skin and urine are in high demand across Asia for their use in traditional Chinese medicine. Demand for the products has soared in Asia, particularly Vietnam, where they are considered a luxury item, according to the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.
“These horns are huge, which means they came from big rhinos,” said Somkiat Soontornpitakkool, director of the division in charge of protecting wildlife at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.
The World Wildlife Fund says very few rhinos survive outside national parks and reserves, and some species are endangered.
Experts who examined the smuggled horns concluded that the poachers who obtained them must have killed the rhinos. It’s possible to cut off a rhinoceros’ horn without killing it, but the dehorning process poses risks to their health.
Some 29,000 rhinos are left in the wild today compared to 500,000 at the beginning of the 20th Century, according to the International Rhino Foundation.
Earlier this month, poachers shot a rhino dead and hacked off its horn at a zoo in France in what is believed to be the first such incident in Europe.
Last month poachers stormed an animal orphanage in South Africa and killed two rhinos for their horns after taking staff hostage.
Rhino horns are prized in some Asian cultures as an ingredient for traditional medicines believed to be effective in treating ailments ranging from fever to cancer.
The Associated Press, BBC