Vietnam seizes 125kg of smuggled rhino tusks worth $7.5m | World news

More than 125kg of smuggled rhino horns have been seized in Vietnam in one of the biggest wildlife trafficking cases ever seen in south-east Asia.

The horns, which had been smuggled in from the United Arab Emirates on an Etihad airways flight, were found in Hanoi’s Noi Bai airport concealed in thick plaster. It took over half a day for the customs teams to break all 55 packages all open.

Rhino horns, which when ground to a powder are believed by some Vietnamese to have medicinal qualities to cure everything from cancer to a hangover, are particularly lucrative and can fetch up to $60,000 (£48,000) per kilo. The haul seized at Hanoi airport last week was worth around $7.5m (£6m).

The seizure is part of a broader crackdown in Vietnam on the vast multi-million dollar wildlife trafficking network operating in the country, which has become a regional hub for the black market trade of everything from rhino horns and tiger skins and meat to elephant tusks and pangolin scales.

Last week the Vietnamese authorities discovered seven frozen tiger cub corpses in the back of a car in Hanoi, which they believe had been smuggled in from Laos. It was unclear whether the tigers had been killed in captivity or shot in the wild, though authorities believe they were smuggled in to the country to sell as tiger meat and parts, which in Vietnam are used for jewellery and medicine.

While international laws have made it illegal to trade in rhino horns since 1977, the black market trade – with the animals usually poached in Africa and then smuggled to Asia – has decimated the population, especially as demand from Vietnam and China has continued to grow. There are now only around 29,000 rhinos left in the world, according to the International Rhino Foundation, and it is estimated three rhinos a day are poached in South Africa alone.

However, countries across south-east Asia, who in the past have been notoriously lax about enforcing the law, have collectively begun to crack down. Last week, Singapore authorities seized a record haul of nearly nine tonnes of contraband tusks from an estimated 300 elephants, worth $12.9m (£10.4m), and 11.9 tonnes of pangolin scales, from 2,000 animals, estimated to be worth about $37m (£30m).

Earlier this month, a United Nations report laid bare the vast illegal wildlife network that was operating across southeast Asia. The report singled out Laos in particular as “a major global hub for the trafficking of high value and highly threatened species into other Asian markets” adding that the country had been identified as the world’s fastest growing ivory market.

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