Thailand confiscated 21 rhino horns worth an estimated US$4.9 million in market value, the biggest seizure in the last five to ten years, officials said on Tuesday.
Thailand has become a major transit point for the trade in endangered species to other Asian countries.
The seizure of the nearly 110 pounds (50 kilograms) of rhino horns came days after 660 pounds (300 kilograms) of elephant ivory were impounded and a month after the discovery of almost three tonnes of pangolin scales destined for Laos.
“It’s the biggest confiscation of the rhino horns in five to 10 years. We seldom find smuggled rhino horns because the numbers of rhinos and their horns are decreasing (from the country of origin),” said Somkiat Soontornpitakkool, director of division of Wild Fauna and Flora Protection.
The rhino horns were found inside luggage from Ethiopia bound for Thailand on March 10.
Global trade in rhino horn is banned by a U.N. convention, but it is much sought after in some fast growing Asian countries where it is prized as an ingredient in traditional medicines to treat everything from fever to cancer.
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“The items are rare, so the price is very high. The price of rhino horns in the black market currently stands at around $100,000 per kilogram,” said Somkiat.
Officials said two arrest warrants have been issued for two Thai women travelling from Vietnam and Cambodia on the same day the luggage arrived in Thailand. They ran away after an official stopped them.
It is estimated that only about 29,000 rhinos are left in the wild today compared to 500,000 at the start of the 20th century, according to the International Rhino Foundation. About 80 percent of the world’s remaining rhinos are in Africa.