Rhino horns worth $1.2 million smuggled in baggage found in Changi Airport by security and K9 Unit

A 33-year-old South African man was sentenced to 24 months’ jail on Jan 26 for smuggling rhinoceros horns weighing 34.7 kg through Changi Airport

This is the heaviest sentence meted out in Singapore for a case involving the smuggling of wildlife parts and the largest seizure of rhino horns in Singapore, said the National Parks Board (NParks).

With an estimated wholesale value of approximately $1.2 million, the 20 pieces of horns were found when airport security and NParks' K9 Unit detected and inspected two pieces of baggage on Oct 4, 2022.

Gumede Sthembiso Joel, who was travelling from South Africa to Laos through Singapore, was immediately arrested and the horns were seized by NParks.

With support from Commercial Affairs Department of the Singapore Police Force and Interpol, NParks deployed officers to South Africa for further investigations and evidence analysis.

The multi-national joint investigations revealed that the accused was acquainted with another South African named Jaycee Israel Marvatona, whom the accused knew to be involved in the illegal rhinoceros horn trade.

Some time in or before September 2022, Jaycee requested the accused transport rhinoceros horns from South Africa to Laos through Singapore. The accused agreed to do so in return for flight tickets and cash from Jaycee.

On the morning of Oct 3, 2022, the accused followed Jaycee’s instructions and checked in the baggage before boarding the flight to Singapore, where he was caught.

After examination by NParks’ Centre for Wildlife Forensics, 18 pieces of horns were identified to be from 15 different White Rhinoceroses while the remaining two pieces of horns were identified to be from one Black Rhinoceros.

The rhinos are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and international trade in their horns is prohibited.

Dr Anna Wong, Acting Senior Director of Wildlife Trade, NParks, said: “The illegal wildlife trade threatens the survival of endangered species, contributes to habitat destruction and harms biodiversity around the world.

"Singapore is a signatory to CITES and is committed to international efforts to combat the illegal wildlife trade to ensure the long-term survival of these animals.

"NParks adopts a multi-pronged approach to enforce against the illegal wildlife trade. This includes working with partner agencies such as the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority to conduct checks at our border checkpoints."