By Shannon Najmabadi
Image credit: @dkite.
On Wednesday, customs officials said two airline passengers were arrested at Pudong International airport for attempting to smuggle rhinoceros horn and ivory items worth over 5 million yuan ($805,000) into Shanghai, according to the Shanghai Daily.
A press release from Shanghai Customs said that the two passengers were carrying 11 rhinoceros horn products and over 30 items made of ivory, Global Times reports.
The men-who said they bought the rhino horn and ivory at “auction houses, antique shops and fairs in Paris,”-were arrested by local officials and charged with “illegally taking endangered animal products into China.”
Officials said that while the men “knew it was illegal to bring the products into China,” but they “anticipated hefty profits.”
These arrests come amidst skyrocketing accounts of smugglers bringing endangered animal and plant products into Shanghai. In 2012, Shanghai Customs seized 5,055 smuggled items made of endangered animal and plant parts, double the amount found in 2011.
“Chinese law prohibits people from carrying products made of endangered animals without related import and export certificates,” but, with rhino horn drawing $33 to $133 per gram, the potential profits outweigh the risks for some smugglers.
Approximately 25,000 rhinos remain in the wild. According to the New York Times, “Africa’s elephants are being slaughtered at the highest rate in two decades,” and there is “a trail of blood” stretching from Africa to “Chinese showrooms and private collections.”
“China is clearly driving the illegal ivory trade more than any other nation on earth,” Tom Milliken, an elephant expert with the wildlife trade-monitoring network Traffic, told the NYT.
While some say the escalating sales in China can be linked to official corruption and general law enforcement incompetence, Chinese officials have instead pointed to the country’s size and population as facilitators of the trafficking.
The Chinese government has tried to raise awareness about the repercussions of poaching via public service campaigns and by frequently featuring the arrests of Chinese smugglers in the news media – a point corroborated by the Shanghai Daily’s coverage of these most recent arrests. Former NBA star Yao Ming, along with other Chinese celebrities, have also made public appeals to stop the illegal ivory and rhino horn trade.