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Man sentenced to 24 months' imprisonment for smuggling 34.7 kg of rhinoceros horns

26 Jan 2024

-  20 pieces of rhinoceros horns were found in two pieces of transit baggage bound for Laos

The 34.7 kg seizure is the largest seizure of rhinoceros horns in Singapore to date


South African Gumede Sthembiso Joel, 33, was sentenced to 24 months’ imprisonment today after pleading guilty to two charges under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act[1] (“ESA”) for transiting in Singapore with rhinoceros horns without a valid permit. This is the heaviest sentence meted out in Singapore to date for a case involving the smuggling of wildlife parts.


On 4 October 2022, the National Parks Board (NParks) seized 20 pieces of rhinoceros horns that were being smuggled through Singapore Changi Airport. Airport security and NParks’ K9 Unit[2] detected and inspected two pieces of baggage (“Boxes”) and found 34.7 kg of rhinoceros horns, which would have an estimated wholesale value of approximately S$1,200,140.79 (US$843,210)[3] as of 4 October 2022. The accused, who was travelling from South Africa to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic through Singapore, was immediately arrested and the rhinoceros horns were seized by NParks. 


During the course of investigations, NParks, with support from Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) of the Singapore Police Force and INTERPOL, deployed officers to South Africa for further investigations and evidence analysis. The successful conclusion of these investigations was the result of close cooperation between NParks, CAD, South African Police Service and INTERPOL.


The multi-national joint investigations revealed that the accused was acquainted with another South African named Jaycee Israel Marvatona (“Jaycee”), whom the accused knew to be involved in the illegal rhinoceros horn trade. Sometime in or before September 2022, Jaycee requested the accused to transport rhinoceros horns from South Africa to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic through Singapore. The accused agreed to do so in return for flight tickets and cash from Jaycee.


On the morning of 3 October 2022, the accused complied with Jaycee’s instructions and proceeded to check-in the Boxes before boarding the flight to Singapore.


After examination by NParks’ Centre for Wildlife Forensics, 18 pieces of horns were identified to be from 15 different White Rhinoceroses (Ceratotherium simum), while the remaining two pieces of horns were identified to be from one Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis). Rhinoceroses are Appendix I species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and international trade in rhinoceros horns is prohibited.


Dr Anna Wong, Acting Senior Director of Wildlife Trade, NParks, said: “The illegal wildlife trade threatens the survival of endangered species, contributes to habitat destruction and harms biodiversity around the world. Singapore is a signatory to CITES and is committed to international efforts to combat the illegal wildlife trade to ensure the long-term survival of these animals. NParks adopts a multi-pronged approach to enforce against the illegal wildlife trade. This includes working with partner agencies such as the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) to conduct checks at our border checkpoints. To further deter the illegal wildlife trade both internationally and domestically, we introduced several amendments to the ESA, including stiffer penalties for illegal trade in CITES-protected species. NParks is actively enforcing these laws, carrying out surveillance at physical marketplaces, monitoring online marketplaces, and taking enforcement action. We will continue with such efforts and urge the public to play their part as well by not purchasing wildlife parts and products, as demand is the key impetus for the illegal wildlife trade.”


Under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act, the penalties for the possession of CITES-scheduled Appendix I species transiting through Singapore without a valid CITES permit are a fine not exceeding S$50,000 for each scheduled species in transit in Singapore (not exceeding S$500,000) and/or up to 2 years’ imprisonment.[4] The same penalties apply to those possessing or transporting CITES-scheduled Appendix I species, including their parts and derivatives.


Singapore adopts a zero-tolerance stance on the illegal trade of endangered wildlife species, and their parts and derivatives. Our agencies collaborate closely in a multi-pronged approach, which includes targeting the illicit financial and asset flows of such crimes and working with our international partners, to maintain vigilance in regulating and enforcing against the illegal wildlife trade. The community can play a key role as well by ensuring their purchases do not contain animal parts of endangered species, and they are not contributing to the demand for the illegal trade of wildlife. Members of the public can contact NParks at if they spot any occurrences of illegal wildlife trade. Information shared will be kept strictly confidential.


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[1] The accused was charged and sentenced under the previous edition of ESA, where the penalties were lower.

[2] NParks deployed its K9 Unit in 2021 to enhance detection capabilities for wildlife and wildlife products at Singapore’s border checkpoints.

[3] This is based on a report published in 2020 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) titled “World Wildlife Crime Report”, which provided that the estimated wholesale value of rhinoceros horns from 2014-2018 was USD 24,300 per kg.

[4] The Endangered Species (Import and Export) (Amendment) Bill was passed on 4 July 2022, and the amendments including provisions for stiffer penalties came into operation on 1 November 2022. Under the present ESA, the penalty for the same offence is a fine of up to S$100,000 per scheduled specimen (not exceeding an aggregate of S$500,000 or the market value of all specimens at the material time, whichever is higher), and/or up to 6 years’ imprisonment.

Last updated on 26 January 2024

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