Friday, February 24, 2012

Federal Investigators Crack Illegal Rhino Horn Smuggling Ring in U.S

A Sumatran rhinoceros

It has been recently reported that federal U.S wildlife investigators in California and other states have busted an international smuggling ring that had functioned for many years in rhinoceros horns. More than 150 federal agents and other local enforcement officers raided houses, businesses, and made several arrests in twelve states, including three in Southern California. According to U.S Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, the raids have dealt a serious blow to smuggling of rhino horns both in the U.S and globally. During the operation, the service seized more than $1 million in cash, $1 million in gold bars, diamonds, and Rolex watches, as well as twenty rhino horns. Much of the contraband was found at a Westminster-based import-export business belonging to Jimmy Kha, in his safety deposit boxes and at his home in Garden Grove. Mr. Kha, along with his girlfriend Mai Nguyen and son Felix, each face four counts of trafficking rhino horns in violation of federal laws protecting endangered species. While both father and son remain in jail, following their arrests earlier at the Los Angeles International Airport, Nguyen is set to be released on $50,000 bail.
This stuffed rhino head was one of many seized during the raids

This 18-month investigation called Operation Crash was forced out in the open on February 9th when officials of the Transportation Security Administration stopped three people at the Long Beach Airport. These included accused wildlife trafficker Wade Steffen of Hico, Texas, his wife Molly, and his mother Merrily. The trio had $337,000 in their carry-on luggage, which included $20,000 dollars in $100-bill bundles in Molly's purse. In her words, the money did not belong to her and that her husband may have put it in her purse. Merrily allowed the officials to view pictures on her camera's memory card. The pictures contained images of $100-bills in stacks bound with rubber bands and rhino horns being weighed on scale. Steffen was incarcerated in Texas, but neither his mother nor his girlfriend was arrested. Since then, wildlife officials intercepted at least eighteen rhino horn shipments from the Steffen family and an owner of a Missouri-based auction house that trades in live and stuffed exotic animals. Law enforcement sources and court records say that the packages were opened, and the horns were identified by scientists. They were then repackaged to be sent either to Kha's business or his girlfriend's nail shop, and presumably smuggled out of country. The investigators tracked the flow of hundreds of thousands of dollars through bank wire transfers, including to accounts in China, and travel records of suspects flying between Los Angeles and Asia, as well as between California, Texas, and Missouri.

Although I'm glad to see that U.S is becoming involved in the ongoing battle of the illegal trade in rhino horns, I also feel that it would be more useful that it should form partnerships with nations like South Africa. South Africa has been losing its rhinos on a huge scale and while it had teamed up with Vietnam to tackle this problem, it would further help if it would ally itself with other nations as well. With several nations working together with South Africa, I believe that it would help in the curbing of rhino poaching and the trade in rhino horns. Earlier this year, around 441 rhinos were killed in South Africa compared to 333 in 2010. If this ongoing massacre continues, then the nation's rhino population will surely plummet to the brink of extinction deeply affecting South Africa's tourist industry. Same with Indonesia, where the numbers of Javan rhinoceroses are in a critical condition and that a single poaching activity could wipe out the entire population from the face of the Earth. The clock is ticking.

View article here

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