The Czech authorities have seized 100 million crowns worth of rhino horns, the largest amount ever confiscated in the country. In total, 24 horns were confiscated which were to be sold in Asia. In the operation, the police also arrested members of an international gang which hired Czech nationals to hunt for the trophies in South Africa.
In an operation codenamed Rhino, the police last week seized 24 white rhino horns which were be sold in an unspecified Asian country, the police said, where it’s believed the horns have medicinal properties. Their street value on Asia’s black market is estimated at around 100 million crowns, or five million US dollars.
Sixteen people were arrested in the operation; they have since been charged with wildlife smuggling, a crime which carries a maximum penalty of eight years. On Tuesday, the authorities displayed part of the confiscated contraband at a news conference in Prague. Aleš Hrubý is an official at the Czech Customs Administration.
“Acting on information from customs officials at Prague’s Václav Havel International Airport and the Czech Environmental Inspectorate, we have ascertained that an international criminal gang was importing rhino horns illegally to the Czech Republic. The gang paid Czech citizens to hunt for rhino horns in South Africa.”
The police were apparently tipped off by the Czech Environmental Inspectorate. Its officials suspected that people applying for import permits for rhino horns were not importing them from South Africa as individual trophies. That is allowed under CITES, an international treaty regulating trade with wild animals, according to the inspectorate’s Jana Zachařová.
“White rhinos are included in the mostly strictly protected category of animals in the CITES convention, with the exception of personal trophies hunted in South Africa. However, we suspected the conditions were not met in this case, and that led us to contact the police.”
Among those arrested are Czech as well as foreign nationals, captured in cooperation with Interpol. However, due to the ongoing investigation, the police have refused to disclose their identity, or country of origin.
This is not the first case of rhino-related crime in the Czech Republic. Last year, a series of rhino horn thefts took place in several Czech museums. The thieves were caught, and last May, a court in Zlín sentenced two men to five years in jail.