“Notice to rhino poaching syndicates: you may wish to reconsider your plans to keep smuggling horns from South Africa via Maputo Airport.”
The International Air Transport Association (Iata), which represents 265 airlines and 83% of global air traffic, says it has chosen Maputo International Airport to test new wildlife anti-trafficking measures. Maputo, and the port of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, have long been regarded as major smuggling exit points for rhino horns, elephant ivory and other wildlife contraband.
Several rhino horn “kingpins” are believed to be based in Maputo, from where they recruit and co-ordinate daily rhino poaching raids into the Kruger National Park, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park and other South African game reserves.
Now Iata has announced that it is working with the World Customs Organisation and donor groups in the US to pilot a new airport wildlife trafficking “assessment tool” in Maputo. The association said it hoped to roll out similar measures at other airports from next year.
Speaking at an illegal wildlife trade conference in Hanoi, Vietnam, last week, Iata chief Alexandre de Juniac said the association was working closely with the World Customs Organisation, the Cites wildlife trade body and other groups “to make the the world a much more difficult place for wildlife traffickers”.
“Actors in the air transport sector can serve as the eyes and ears of enforcement agencies and be valuable partners in the efforts to eliminate wildlife trafficking from supply chains. This assessment tool will enable them to identify weak points in procedures and practices exploited by traffickers, as well as ways of strengthening them,” the organisation’s secretary-general Kunio Mikuriya said.
A recent report by rhino expert Richard Emslie identifies Mozambique as one of the “priorities of greatest concern” in the illegal trade in rhino horn. He said rhino horns from South Africa were typically smuggled to Asia via the Maputo, Nampula and Pemba airports.
Asian criminal networks were “heavily involved” in rhino trafficking in South Africa and Mozambique, with at least 59 Asian nationals arrested in both countries since 2010. They included 35 Vietnamese, 21 Chinese, two Thais and one Malaysian.
In May 2015, 65 rhino horns (and 1160kg of elephant ivory) were seized from two Chinese nationals in Mozambique. Emslie said both suspects were released and it was not clear whether they were ever prosecuted.