5 min read

Airport Officials Bust More Rhino Horns Than They've Ever Seen Before

This happens way too often 💔

What started out as a simple cargo inspection last week led to the most heartbreaking find.

On August 13 at Kuala Lumpur Airport in Malaysia, customs officials searched a group of cardboard boxes destined for Vietnam.

Stashed inside were 50 rhino horns, worth an estimated $12 million — making it the largest wildlife seizure in Malaysian history.

rhino horn malaysia smuggling
The horns collected in the bust | Vimeo/TRAFFIC

In Vietnam, just 2 pounds' worth of rhino horn can be sold for tens of thousands of dollars on the black market — although the horns are just made of keratin, the same protein found in human fingernails. The ingredient is in high demand in countries like Vietnam and China, where people believe it can fight cancer.

This means that an alarming number of rhinos are killed each year to keep up with the demand, pushing them further to the brink of extinction. In 2016, an estimated 1,100 rhinos were killed for their horns in South Africa alone.

orphan rhino south africa
A mother rhino with her calf | Shutterstock

Poachers will even kill a mother rhino in front of her calves in order to take her horns. In many cases, the orphans are found still trying to nurse from their mom’s limp body.

Even rhinos in captivity are at risk. Last year, a group of poachers broke into a zoo in France to saw off a captive rhino’s horn with a chainsaw. Weeks before that incident, armed poachers broke into a rhino orphanage in South Africa to kill baby rhinos for their horns. Two rhino calves died. 

In addition to the horns from the airport seizure, officials also recovered a stash of large bones within the shipment, that are believed to be from tigers or leopards.

rhino orphan
Gugu and Impy, the two rhino calves who were attacked and killed by poachers at Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage last year. | Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage

No arrests have been made in the case yet, but officials hope the bust can lead them to the source. To gather more evidence, the horns and bones will be DNA tested so officials can identify the age and species of animal they came from.

TRAFFIC, a group which monitors the illegal wildlife trade, said the case points to potentially new connections between traffickers in Malaysia and Vietnam.

While the loss of these lives is tragic, investigators hope that having the physical evidence in custody can bring them that much closer to stamping out the criminal network for good.

rhino horns malaysia
Officials hope to gather more evidence in the case with the help of DNA testing. | Facebook/Perhilitan Official

“This was a very unusual mix of wildlife parts found — rhino horns which were clearly not from Asia and carnivore carcasses which could have originated from the country,” Kanitha Krishnasamy, TRAFFIC’s scting Southeast Asia director, said in a statement. “This discovery raises questions about how criminals are accumulating wildlife parts, and using a multitude of routes and methods to traffic them onwards to destination countries.”

To help baby rhinos orphaned by poachers, you can make a donation to The Rhino Orphanage. To help poaching victims receive lifesaving vet care, you can make a donation to Saving the Survivors.