US$16m in rhino horns stolen from South African agency’s safe

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 April, 2014, 11:08pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 April, 2014, 5:17pm


About 40 rhinoceros horns worth millions of dollars have been stolen from the safe of a state tourism organisation in South Africa.

The horns - prized in some forms of traditional Asian medicine - were taken from the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency at the weekend, the Lowvelder newspaper reported on Monday.

"The culprit, or culprits, cut open two steel safes fitted with double locks," a source at the agency said.

Dex Kotze, a conservationist and chief executive of South African jeweller Jenna Clifford, which backs a campaign against rhino poaching, said the haul could be worth as much as US$16 million.

Poaching of South African rhinos is on the increase, with more than 270 killed already this year - nearly half in the Kruger Park, despite troops being deployed to protect them.

The horns are sought after in parts of Asia, particularly Vietnam, for use in traditional medicine, even though they are made of keratin, the same thing as human fingernails.

Poachers often kill the rhinos with semi-automatic rifles, hacking off the horns and leaving the animals wounded or dead.

South Africa is home to nearly 20,000 rhinos - about 70 to 80 per cent of the world's population.

Illegal hunting of rhinos in South African parks continues despite air and foot patrols, as well as increased numbers of rangers assisted by soldiers.

The police and the agency could not be reached on Monday, which was a local holiday.