In a landmark case, a South African man, Gumede Sthembiso Joel, has been sentenced to two years in jail for his involvement in Singapore’s largest-ever seizure of rhinoceros horns, valued at over $1.2 million, according to The Straits Times.
The National Parks Board (NParks) stated that this marks the most substantial sentence to date for wildlife smuggling in the country.
The Unprecedented Seizure
Gumede, 33, pleaded guilty to two charges under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act (ESA) 2006. The charges stemmed from his arrest in 2022 while in transit to Laos through Changi Airport Terminal 1. He was found to have unlawfully transported 20 rhino horns from Johannesburg to Singapore, weighing nearly 32kg in total.
Of significant concern is that 18 of these horns originated from 15 poached white rhinoceroses, classified as endangered, while the remaining two horns, weighing over 2.7kg, were traced back to a critically endangered black rhinoceros. Gumede had brought the horns without the necessary export or re-export permits from South African authorities, as mandated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), of which Singapore is a party.
Impact on Rhino Conservation
Deputy Public Prosecutors highlighted the dire consequences of poaching on rhinoceros populations. According to Cites, the white rhinoceros population stands at an estimated 18,067, while there are less than 5,000 black rhinoceroses remaining in the wild. The prosecution emphasized that the illegal trade in rhino horns not only jeopardizes these species but also fuels a thriving black-market economy.
The court was informed that 15 samples of the seized horns were linked to 11 female rhinoceroses. The prosecutors underscored the potential disruption to the reproductive processes of these species due to illegal poaching activities.
International Connections and Illicit Trade
Investigations revealed that Gumede had known another South African, Jaycee Israel Marvatona, who purchased the horns from illegal poachers and arranged to sell them to an individual named “Jimmy” for delivery in Laos. Rhino horns carry a high trade value, sought after for their purported use in Chinese medicine and ornamentals.
Legal Consequences and Ongoing Enforcement
While Gumede’s case represents a significant legal victory against wildlife trafficking, it sheds light on the challenges faced by authorities in combatting illicit trade. The NParks, actively enforcing laws against illegal wildlife trade, reiterated the global impact of such activities on endangered species, habitat destruction, and biodiversity.
Dr. Anna Wong, acting senior director of wildlife trade at NParks, emphasized the commitment to deterring illegal wildlife trade through amendments to the ESA, including stiffer penalties for the illegal trade of Cites-protected species. Ongoing efforts include surveillance at physical and online marketplaces, as well as rigorous enforcement actions to curb the illegal wildlife trade.