Police confirm theft of 12 rhino horns

The Mozambican police on Wednesday confirmed that 12 of the 65 rhinoceros horns seized on 12 May have been stolen, but gave no details as to how the horns could have been removed from what were supposed to be heavily guarded premises.

The Maputo provincial police spokesperson, Emidio Mabunda, told reporters that the police have made six arrests, but did not say who the suspects are.

“The six people detained are Mozambicans”, he said. “However, it is premature to say whether or not they are policemen. But they are people who were entrusted with guarding the horns, and had access to the place from which the horns have disappeared”.

Mabunda said that those arrested had produced replicas of the horns to replace the genuine items. The whereabouts of the 12 real rhino horns are not known.

In the largest seizure of illicit wildlife products in Mozambican history, the police seized 340 elephant tusks and 65 rhino horns from a house in Matola on 12 May, and arrested two Chinese citizens in connection with the attempt to smuggle these goods out of the country.

Initial reports on the theft, carried by Mozambique Television (TVM), suggested that all 65 rhino horns had been stolen, but Mabunda insisted that the true figure was 12. Although the place where the horns were kept had been described as a police warehouse, Mabunda denied that the horns had been in the custody of the Maputo Provincial Police Command.

He said they were being kept by another state body, but declined to name it. “The horns were no longer under the control of the police”, he added. “They were entrusted to other state bodies who, in coordination with the police, formed a mission to protect them”.

Environmental activists, fearing that the horns would be stolen, had urged the police to incinerate them. Asked why the police had not accepted this advice, Mabunda said “it is not the responsibility of the police to destroy that material”.

He said the police are continuing to look for the missing horns, and to detain anyone else involved in the theft.

Since both species of African rhinoceros, the black and the white, are believed extinct in southern Mozambique, the horns seized in Matola almost certainly came from animals slaughtered in South Africa’s Kruger National Park.

Mozambique is being used as a corridor for traffickers to take the horns to Asia, thus avoiding the closely watched South African airports.

The most recent evidence for this came on 15 May, when a Vietnamese named Vuan Tuan was arrested at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta Airport in possession of seven rhino horns. He had boarded a Kenya Airways flight in Maputo, and was on his way to Hanoi. Although all luggage entering aircraft at Maputo airport passes through scanners, somehow the rhino horns went undetected.

Post published in: Africa News

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