Jail sentence for SA’er in Singapore who smuggles rhino horns


A court in Singapore sentenced a South African to two years in prison for smuggling rhino horns. This is the heaviest punishment ever imposed in this city-state for the illegal trade in wildlife products.

The smuggler is identified in court documents as Gumede Sthembiso Joel. He was arrested at Singapore’s Changi Airport in 2022 after authorities caught him with 20 pieces of rhino horn, weighing around 34.7 kg, in his luggage.

Sniffer dogs detected the items in his luggage when he traveled from South Africa to Laos via Singapore.

The pieces are worth around R16 million and are the largest find of rhino horn that Singapore has made so far.

33-year-old Joel was sentenced after pleading guilty to two charges of possessing rhino horns without a valid permit while in transit.

“This is the heaviest punishment that has so far been imposed in Singapore for a case related to the smuggling of wildlife products,” Singapore’s National Parks Board (NParks) said in a statement on Friday.

After a thorough forensic analysis, it was determined that 18 of the horn pieces came from different white rhinos, while another two pieces came from a single black rhino.

District Judge Eddy Tham said during the consideration of an appropriate sentence that he must also “consider the effect” that smuggling has on the relevant rhinoceros species.

“The damage caused is obviously greater,” he found.

Rhinos are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) and international trade in rhino horn is prohibited.

South Africa, home to almost 80% of the world’s entire rhino population, is a poaching hotspot with demand driven from Asia.

In 2022, 448 rhinos were poached in South Africa, just three less than a year earlier and despite intensified efforts to protect the animals.

Rhino horns are considered a status symbol and in some parts of Asia they are also believed to have medicinal properties. The horn pieces are also incorporated into jewelery and household items such as combs, buttons and belt buckles.