Rhino Horn Worth $5 million Seized in Thailand

Rhino horns
Rhino horns are displayed during a news conference at the Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok, Thailand March 14. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Thai authorities have confiscated rhino horn worth an estimated $5 million from luggage sent from Ethiopia in the largest haul in Thailand for years.

Twenty-one rhino horns were found at customs in Bangkok's International airport. Two Thai women who had traveled from Vietnam and Cambodia arrived to collect them, before fleeing when their luggage was checked.

Thailand is a key hub for illegal ivory trafficking en route to other Asian countries. Last week 300kg (660 pounds) of elephant ivory was seized by authorities.

"It's the biggest confiscation of rhino horns in 5 to 10 years," said Somkiat Soontornpitakkool, director of Thailand's Wild Fauna and Flora Protection division.

Rhinos are often culled to order in Africa and then exported internationally.

Just 29,000 rhinos are estimated to be left in the wild, a drop from 500,000 at the start of the 20th century, according to the International Rhino Foundation.

Although there is a worldwide U.N. ban on trading ivory, it is still valued as a traditional medicine in some Asian countries.

Last year poachers held staff hostage at an animal orphanage in South Africa and sawed the horns of rhinos Impi and Gugu at the Thula Thula Rhino Orphanage. They both died.

China is driving the demand for ivory. I n 2007, the country listed ivory carving as part of its "intangible cultural heritage", essentially endorsing the killing of elephants. At the end of 2016, it announced a complete ban on ivory and processing activities, by the end of 2017, demanding its legal carvers and traders leave the business.

But critics suggest the ban does not go far enough, claiming that an estimated 90 percent of all ivory pieces in China are traded on the black market, and the number of legal businesses set to be closed are small.