The Philippines seized a shipment of six rhinoceros horns today, authorities said, adding to growing concerns over the country's ports being used for illegal wildlife trafficking.
Weighing 8.5kg, the items from Mozambique arrived at the Manila port on August 25 but were only inspected and discovered today, buried inside 300 sacks of cashew nuts, customs bureau chief Ruffy Biazon said.
Wildlife officials and an anti-trafficking campaigner said it was only the second time that Philippine authorities have intercepted a rhino horn shipment, with both believing they were intended for either Vietnam or China.
"The seizure of these rhinoceros horns today should serve as a warning to ill-minded traders that the Philippines is no place for them to indulge in their illicit trade," Biazon said in a statement.
Huge demand in Asia, where some people believe pulverised horn can cure cancers or malaria, have led to hundreds of the large, plant-eating mammals being slaughtered by poachers every year in Africa.
The black rhinoceros is considered critically endangered while the white rhinoceros is near-threatened.
The environment group World Wildlife Fund in July named China, Vietnam and Thailand as the worst offenders in fuelling a global black market that is seeing record numbers of elephants and rhinos killed in Africa.
The seized horns would have commanded NZ$1.4million in the black market, Biazon said in a statement.
Steven Toledo, an official of the environment department's wildlife enforcement section, said: "I believe they were intended for transshipment.
No arrests have been made.
Chris Shepherd, deputy regional director for the global wildlife monitoring network TRAFFIC, said the only previous known smuggling through Manila was two years ago when two white rhino horns were found among seized elephant tusks.
He said it was "very likely" more rhino horns were illicitly passing through Philippine ports citing its growing reputation as a waypoint for large illegal shipments of Asian reptiles and other wildlife.
"The Philippines would not have been the end destination. It would have been Vietnam, and possibly China," Shepherd said
"There seems to have been a definite increase in enforcement efforts in the source countries, but we're not seeing any definite actions in the consumer countries to shut the markets down," he said.
Because of this, there are likely to be more rhinoceros slaughtered by poachers in Africa this year than the 448 killed last year. So far there have been 218 documented rhino killings up to the end of July, he added.
"We need more help and effort in places like Manila or any major port used as a hub" for the illegal traffic, Shepherd said.