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Over 1,000 rhinos killed in South Africa last year, as poacher arrests fall

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over 1,000 rhinos killed in South Africa

More than 1,000 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa last year, suggesting the country’s efforts to crack down on animal crime are failing to make a significant impact on the criminal gangs that target the creature.

In her recently-released rhino-poaching report, South African Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa revealed that while the number of rhinos killed for their horns declined slightly to a total of 1,028 in 2017 from 1,054 the previous year, authorities made fewer arrests of poachers compared with 2016.

While the fall in the number of rhinos slaughtered for their horns represented the third such decline in three consecutive years, conservationists greeted the contents of Molewa’s report with disappointment.

South Africa is now considered the last stronghold of the southern white rhino, which has become an increasingly popular target for poachers looking to capitalise on the growing demand for rhino horn in countries such as China and Vietnam.

Rhino horn is routinely added to medicines in Asian countries, where many people mistakenly believe it can cure anything from a bad hangover to cancer.

In a statement, Molewa said, “It is clear from what we have reported to you as a team this morning that we continue to register successes in our fight against rhino poaching, but we are equally aware that the battle is far from won.

“We will in 2018 continue to draw on our achievements, learn from our mistakes, and adapt international best practice. It is only through a collaborative approach that we have come this far – which is a long way from where we were a few years ago.”

In Kruger National Park, one of Africa’s largest game reserves, government efforts to crack down on poaching led to a 24% fall in rhino killings, which dropped to 504 deaths las year from 662 in 2016.

However, the number of suspected poachers and traffickers arrested across the country fell to 518 in 2017, which represented a significant drop from the record 680 people detained the previous year.

Commenting on the figures, Richard Thomas, a spokesman for TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring charity, told National Geographic: “Clearly poachers will go for the easiest targets, and if South Africa’s main crime fighting institutions are failing to coordinate their efforts to prevent poaching effectively, then the country’s rhinos will inevitably be targeted.”

The report was published after Thai police arrested the suspected head of Asia’s largest and most prolific wildlife smuggling gangs earlier this month.

Boonchai Bach, who is said to have made a fortune from trafficking illicit animal parts out of Africa to Asia, was detained on suspicion of smuggling 14 rhino horns estimated to be worth around $975,400 to Thailand in December.

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Woman arrested in Malaysia for attempting to smuggle heroin hidden in durian fruit

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heroin hidden in durian fruit

Customs officers at a Malaysian airport have arrested a woman for attempting to smuggle 6.13kgs of heroin worth an estimated RM953,529 ($227,900) out of the country concealed inside frozen durian fruits, according to a report from Malaysian state-run news agency Bernama.

Police arrested the 34-year-old woman after border security workers at the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport in Subang found the drug-stuffed fruit hidden among 20 Styrofoam boxes at a cargo centre where it was waiting to be transported to Hong Kong.

Datuk Zulkarnain Mohamed Yusuf, the Central Zone Customs Assistant Director General, said the fruit had been hollowed out before being filled with heroin.

“Four of them were found to contain white lumps of suspected heroin wrapped in translucent plastic inside the fruit,” he said during a press conference at the Kuala Lumpur Customs Complex in Kelana Jaya.

Yusuf said his officers acted after receiving intelligence about the smuggling plot, and moved to arrest the woman suspected of being behind the shipment after her details were found on the shipping manifesto.

The woman, who was remanded in custody for five days on suspicion of drug trafficking, could face the death penalty if she is convicted of attempting to smuggle heroin.

Durian fruit, which is renowned for the pungent aroma it gives off, is popular in Malaysia and Indonesia, and is finding a growing number of admirers in countries including China and Hong Kong.

Earlier this month, FlightGlobal reported that an Air Canada flight was forced to make an emergency landing due to the smell given off by a shipment of durians.

Hiding large consignments of illicit narcotics has become a popular smuggling method among drug traffickers across the globe.

In August, Chinese government-funded news agency Xinhua reported that Bulgarian customs officers had discovered almost 76kgs of cocaine said to be worth nearly $3 million concealed inside a shipment of fruit in the port city of Burgas.

Elsewhere, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced in February that its investigators had found over half a tonne of cocaine estimated to be worth more than $19 million hidden inside a shipment of fresh pineapples that had arrived in Georgia by boat from Colombia.

Spanish investigators last April discovered nine tonnes of cocaine estimated to be worth more than €285 million (£312.7 million) among hundreds of boxes of bananas on a shipping container that arrived from Colombia at Algeciras port.

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US police use sophisticated cryptocurrency tracing techniques to smash world’s largest dark web paedophile film network

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world’s largest dark web paedophile film network

US prosecutors have charged a South Korean man with running the world’s largest dark web distribution network for indecent images of children, according to a statement from the US Department of Justice (DoJ).

Jong Woo Son, 23, has also been charged and convicted in South Korea, where he is currently serving jail time for the crimes of which he stands accused in the US.

The Welcome to Video website, which is reported to have hosted more than 250,000 indecent videos featuring minors that users had downloaded more than one million times, charged paedophiles for access to abuse material using cryptocurrency Bitcoin.

Despite Son’s concerted efforts to avoid being discovered by law enforcement authorities, investigators were able to trace the server he used to host the site through sophisticated cryptocurrency tracking techniques.

An additional 337 site users were arrested across the US as well as in country’s including the UK, South Korea, Germany, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Czech Republic, Canada, Ireland, Spain, Brazil and Australia.

As well as the arrest of users of the site, the operation to close down the three-year old paedophile film network also led to the rescue of least 23 child victims of abuse in the US, Spain and the UK.

Son was arrested in March last year in South Korea in an operation that resulted in the seizure some eight terabytes of child sexual exploitation material, which the DoJ said was one of the largest such discoveries of its kind.

Specialists at the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) examined the material and found the site contained over 250,000 unique videos, 45% of which featured new images that had not been previously known to exist.

The website offered access to this content in exchange for payment in Bitcoin.

Analysis of the server that hosted Welcome to Video revealed that the site had more than one million Bitcoin addresses, suggesting it had the capacity for at least one million users.

Commenting on the shutdown of the site, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Acting Executive Associate Director Alysa Erichs said: “Children are our most vulnerable population, and crimes such as these are unthinkable.

“Sadly, advances in technology have enabled child predators to hide behind the dark web and cryptocurrency to further their criminal activity.

“However, today’s indictment sends a strong message to criminals that no matter how sophisticated the technology or how widespread the network, child exploitation will not be tolerated in the United States.

“Our entire justice system will stop at nothing to prevent these heinous crimes, safeguard our children, and bring justice to all.”

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Two men charged with poaching offences after investigators in Florida seize 600 turtles

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investigators in Florida seize 600 turtles

Authorities in Florida have charged two men suspected of illegally selling more than 4,000 turtles over on six-month period with poaching offences.

The suspects were arrested after officers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) were handed intelligence in February last year that a ring of wildlife traffickers was poaching native species of turtle before selling them to reptile dealers and illegal distributors.

The animals would then be shipped overseas to be sold on the black market.

During a raid that led to the men’s arrest, FWC investigators seized more than 600 live turtles, as well as the skull and shell of a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, which is an endangered species.

The FWC said the species the men stand accused of poaching and selling include Florida box turtles, Eastern box turtles, striped mud turtles, Florida mud turtles, chicken turtles, Florida softshell turtles, Gulf Coast spiny softshell turtles, spotted turtles and diamondback terrapins.

The turtles seized during the operation, which had an estimated black-market value of $200,000, were returned to their natural environment, with almost 300 becoming part of a long-term monitoring project led by the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.

In a statement on its website, the FWC said the turtles the men sold were offered for a wholesale price of $300 each, but could fetch as much as $10,000 on the Asian black market.

Over the course of just one month, the men are thought to have sold turtles estimated to be worth some $60,000.

Dr Craig Stanford, Chairman of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group, said: “We know that the global black market in live animals includes traffickers smuggling protected species of turtles out of the United States, usually for export to the Asian pet market.

“This sinister and illegal trade threatens the future of many species of North American animals, and as one of the most threatened animal groups on the planet, turtles are at the forefront of our concern.”

In July of last year, a US court fined two Chinese flight attendants $5,500 each and ordered them to leave America within 72 hours after they were found guilty of attempting to smuggle dozens of spotted and box turtles in carry-on luggage from Los Angeles to China.

The China Eastern Airlines cabin crew members were arrested while passing through Los Angeles International Airport after border guards found 31 live spotted turtles and 14 live box turtles hidden inside pillowcases and plastic bags in their luggage.

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