Thailand seizes rhino horns worth $5 million in biggest haul for years

"The rhino horns we confiscated this time are the most attractive horns we've ever seized from this airport", the statement said.

Thai authorities said Tuesday they have seized 21 unusually large rhinoceros horns worth nearly $5 million that were smuggled from Ethiopia.

The seized rhino horns on display at a customs office in Hanoi on March 14, 2017.

The bags' owners, two Thai women who had arrived on separate flights but went to claim the luggage, fled as officers searched their bags and have not been apprehended, the statement said.

Activists say that despite improvements in Thailand's anti-smuggling efforts, its main airport remains a popular hub for wildlife smuggling in Asia.

"After scanning and checking, customs officials discovered the two suitcases of 57 kilograms (125 pounds) and 61 kilograms were full of suspected rhino horns", the online Capital Security Newspaper reports said.

"It's the biggest confiscation of rhino horns in 5 to 10 years", said Somkiat Soontornpitakkool, director of Thailand's Wild Fauna and Flora Protection division. When police found the horns, the two women ran away from authorities at the airport but were caught a short time later. Warrants are now out for their arrest.

It is thought that only about 29,000 rhinos are left in the wild today compared with 500,000 at the start of the 20th century, according to the International Rhino Foundation. While the World Wildlife Fund said it's possible to cut off a rhino's horn without killing it, the horns discovered Friday were likely taken after the rhinos were killed.

Vietnam is a hot market for rhino horn, believed to have medicinal properties and is in high demand among the communist nation's growing middle class.

  • Leroy Wright