Free Newsletters - Space News - Defense Alert - Environment Report - Energy Monitor
. Earth Science News .




FLORA AND FAUNA
US rhino horn trafficking draws motley profiteers
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) May 10, 2012


A rodeo cowboy, a Chinese businessman, a Vietnamese nail salon owner and a US antiques expert are among eight people snared so far this year in the largest rhino horn smuggling bust in US history.

US investigators say more arrests are on the way as a new task force sets its sights on a motley crew of organized crime players that experts say is driven by smugglers from Ireland, China, Vietnam, the United States and elsewhere.

Their product is more valuable than cocaine or gold. A single rhino horn can sell for up to half a million US dollars in Vietnam and parts of Southeast Asia where urban legend touts it as a potent aphrodisiac and even a cure for cancer.

"It is a substantial problem," said Edward Grace, deputy chief of law enforcement for the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

He described his agency's efforts to halt illegal rhino horn trafficking as a "priority."

"The middle men here are buying rhino horn for $5,000 a pound and by the time it makes it to Vietnam it is selling for $25,000 a pound," said Grace, adding that a 20-pound rhino horn could fetch up to $500,000 at its final destination.

To get a share of the cash, would-be profiteers in the United States are scouring for rhino horns, mainly from trophies of the animals that were hunted legally in South Africa and brought back to the United States in recent decades, Grace said.

Meanwhile in Europe, thefts from museums, zoos and auction houses have escalated.

Last year alone, Europol documented 60 thefts -- including 74 rhino horns and eight rhino heads -- from nearly every country in Europe.

"This has turned out to be involving so many different countries that Irish police reached out to us and we got involved," said Soren Kragh Pedersen, chief of media and public relations at Europol.

In July, Europol issued a warning that "significant players within this area of crime have been identified as an Irish and ethnically Irish organized criminal group, who are known to use intimidation and violence to achieve their ends."

Indeed, it was a pair of Irishmen who first drew the attention of US authorities in 2010.

Richard O'Brien and Michael Hegarty of Rathkeale in County Limerick were arrested after paying undercover agents in Colorado about $17,000 for four black rhino horns. They said they would ship them to Ireland with furniture to avoid detection.

They were charged with conspiracy, smuggling and money laundering, and served six months in a US prison.

Grace described the men as belonging to a gang known as the Rathkeale Rovers, "an organized crime element out of Ireland dealing in rhino horns."

They also are known to belong to the Irish travellers community, historically caravan-dwelling nomads with their own distinct culture and traditions.

-- 'Similar to a drug cartel' --

Grace said he believes the illegal rhino horn trade "is really being fueled by the Irish travellers."

After those two arrests, the US Fish and Wildlife Service put together a task force to investigate rhino horn theft cases nationwide.

In February, a sprawling operation that involved 150 agents from the Homeland Security Department and the Internal Revenue Service, as well as FWS undercover buyers of rhino horn, orchestrated a major takedown.

It was prompted by the discovery of $337,000 cash in the luggage of rodeo cowboy Wade Steffen at Long Beach Airport in California.

Grace described Operation Crash, in which "crash" refers to a herd of rhinos, as "the largest seizure and the largest number of arrests at one time in the United States involved in a rhino horn investigation."

Though no Irish were nabbed in the takedown, which involved 37 horns at a value of $8 million to $10 million, more arrests are expected in the coming months, Grace said.

"This case also involves other Irish buying rhino horns in the United States," he told AFP. "I can't go into a lot of details on it."

In addition to Steffen, the suspects have included Vietnamese import-export business owner Jimmy Kha and his girlfriend Mai Nguyen, who owned a nail salon where packages of rhino horns were allegedly being mailed.

Others arrested in Los Angeles include Chinese businessman Jin Zhao Feng who, according to the FWS, allegedly oversaw the shipment of dozens of rhino horns from the United States to China.

Two more arrests on the East Coast involved shadowy deals of rhino horns allegedly being sold outside a gas station off the New Jersey Turnpike and an American antique dealer who sawed rhino horns off a mounted trophy head in a motel parking lot, the FWS said.

"It is similar to an operation of a drug cartel. You have the higher ups who provide the money, the mid-level lieutenants who get the couriers and the smugglers, so you have the whole organized criminal element here," said Grace.

In the United States, it is illegal to sell most kinds of rhino horns across state lines and none may be imported or exported without a special permit.

The maximum penalties are a $250,000 fine and five years in prison for conspiracy and trafficking of endangered species, and $100,000 and one year in prison for violating the Endangered Species Act.

After the February arrests, US attorney Andre Birotti vowed to "continue to target traffickers in the United States who support a heinous industry without any concern for the welfare of this planet's overall environmental health."

Since illegal trafficking fuels poaching of endangered rhinos abroad, "part of the responsibility worldwide to help protect these species falls on the United States," said Grace.

.


Related Links
Darwin Today At TerraDaily.com






Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks
del.icio.usdel.icio.us DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle




Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News





FLORA AND FAUNA
Camera trap video offers rare glimpse of world's rarest gorilla
Washington DC (SPX) May 10, 2012
Conservationists working in Cameroon's Kagwene Gorilla Sanctuary have collected the first camera trap video footage of the Cross River gorilla. With fewer than 250 individuals remaining, Cross River gorillas are the world's rarest gorilla and a notoriously elusive species rarely observed directly by field researchers. Collected from one of four video camera traps set up by researchers in t ... read more


FLORA AND FAUNA
Japan to take control of Fukushima operator TEPCO

Munich Re reports return to profit after tsunami blow

Clinton to leave China for Bangladesh cauldron

Japan to go nuclear-free for first time since 1970

FLORA AND FAUNA
Thailand buys Chinese tablet computers for schools

Curtiss-Wright Controls Awarded Contract By Alenia Aermacchi

Japan's Hitachi looks to future after wobbly year

KIT Researchers Succeed in Realizing a New Material Class

FLORA AND FAUNA
US gives Zambia $355 mln for water projects

Laos says building of controversial dam on hold

70 percent of beaches eroding on Hawaiian islands Kauai, Oahu, and Maui

Argentina fisheries at risk from dispute

FLORA AND FAUNA
Increasing speed of Greenland glaciers gives new insight for rising sea level

NASA Langley Aircraft Joins Operation IceBridge

Reykjavik denies approving Chinese tycoon land lease

Voyage to the 'front line' of global warming

FLORA AND FAUNA
Plant diversity is key to maintaining productive vegetation

Kiwifruit detectives trace disease to China

Modern hybrid corn makes better use of nitrogen

Different recipes for success in the world of plants

FLORA AND FAUNA
Debris from volcano closes Mexico airport again

Debris from volcano closes Mexico airport

Four killed, 10 missing in Indonesian floods

Mexico launches national tsunami warning system

FLORA AND FAUNA
MSU plan would control deadly tsetse fly

British, Indonesia, Liberia leaders to head UN panel

Mali crisis could threaten global security: UN refugee chief

W. Africa bloc threatens coup leaders in Mali, G. Bissau

FLORA AND FAUNA
Cautious Asians split as Obama backs gay marriage

Emotion Reversed In Left-Handers' Brains Holds New Implications For Treatment Of Anxiety And Depression

Darwinian selection continues to influence human evolution

Iceman mummy yields oldest blood seen




The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2014 - Space Media Network. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement