PETALING JAYA: Malaysia is just one of several Southeast Asian countries in which contraband such as rhino horns are moved through, says wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic.
Malaysian authorities seized 51.45kg of rhino horns worth RM13.75mil at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) on Monday.
The shipment was flown in from Mozambique via Qatar.
"This seizure is the sixth one Asia has seen within a month," said Traffic Southeast Asia senior program manager Kanitha Krishnasamy.
The five other seizures in the region took place in Hong Kong, Thailand and Vietnam. Two of Hong Kong's three seizures originated from Mozambique, which led to the arrest of two men.
Kanitha said trends from past seizures show Malaysia as a popular "stop-over" or transit location for illegal wildlife goods, such as ivory, before heading elsewhere in Asia.
"Malaysia, like many others in the region, is an important source, consumer and transit country for various wildlife, their parts and products," said Kanitha.
"Our rich biodiversity makes us a natural target for those seeking to get their hands on highly sought after wildlife or their parts, such as tigers, pangolins and bears.
“Traffickers are varying their routes to avoid detection and this case clearly points to the need for vigilance throughout Southeast Asia," she said.
Although the airway bill lists Malaysia as the final destination of the rhino horns shipment, Kanitha said that Malaysia does not have a domestic market for rhino horn sale or consumption.
"It is very likely for distribution to other end-use markets in the region," she said.
"But, investigations are extremely critical to determine if this was also intended for locally-based traders or operators involved along the trade chain," said Kanitha.
Kanitha said that Malaysia has previously been implicated in the trafficking of rhino horns from Africa and Asia.
Traffic's analysis of ivory seizures from 2003 to 2014 showed that at least 23 rhino horns were mixed in three of the 66 shipments of elephant ivory that implicated Malaysia as part of their trade chain.
Two shipments that contained rhino horns listed Malaysia as the import destination.
“Seizures are an indispensable step when banned goods have already entered a trade chain and Traffic commends the Malaysian authorities from stopping criminals from profiting from rhino horn trafficking," said Kanitha.
"These recent seizures across Southeast Asia point to a ‘busy’ trafficking period and we hope that law enforcement agencies in the region collaborate to fight this crime in an effective and united manner," she said.
Acting on intelligence, customs officers conducted a search at KLIA’s Free Trade Zone’s cargo warehouse and found the horns packed in wooden crates that was falsely declared as artwork.
The shipment was transported on a Qatar Airways flight, and listed Malaysia as the final destination. The airway bill however, listed a fictitious address in Nilai.
The case is a violation under the International Trade in Endangered Species Act that carries a maximum penalty of RM1mil or a jail term of up to seven years, or both. Fines may be doubled if the violation involves a business entity.Rhino horn trafficking also violates Malaysia’s Customs Act (Prohibition of Imports) where the guilty party is liable to a minimum fine of 10 times or a maximum 20 times the value of the prohibited goods, or a jail term of three years, or both.