SINGAPORE: A Singapore court sentenced a South African man to two years in jail today for smuggling rhino horns, the heaviest sentence ever handed down in the city-state for trafficking wildlife parts.
The man named in court documents as Gumede Sthembiso Joel was arrested at Singapore’s Changi airport in 2022 after authorities found 20 rhino horn pieces weighing 34.7kg in his bags.
Sniffer dogs detected the contraband in his baggage while he was travelling from South Africa to Laos through Singapore.
The pieces were worth about SG$1.2 million – the city-state’s largest seizure of rhino horns.
The 33-year-old man was sentenced after pleading guilty to two charges of transiting with rhino horns without a valid permit.
“This is the heaviest sentence meted out in Singapore to date for a case involving the smuggling of wildlife parts,” Singapore’s National Parks Board (NParks) said in a statement today.
After undergoing forensic analysis, 18 horn pieces were determined to be from 15 different white rhinos, while another two pieces were from a single black rhino, NParks said.
In determining the appropriate sentence, district judge Eddy Tham said he had to “consider the effect” of the two rhino species involved.
“The harm caused is clearly greater,” he said.
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.
Home to nearly 80% of the world’s rhinoceroses, South Africa is a poaching hotspot, driven by demand from Asia.
The South African government said 448 of the rare animals were killed across the country in 2022, only three fewer than in 2021 despite increased protection at national parks.
Rhino horns are considered status symbols and believed to have medicinal properties in parts of Asia. They are also carved into jewellery and household items including combs, buttons, and belt buckles.