A rhino horn trafficking syndicate recruited Thai hookers to pose as hunters in order to evade South African laws limiting the trophy hunting of rhinos, according to local media reports.
South Africa has seen a dramatic increase in the number of rhinos killed illegally for their horns. The rhino poaching has been fueled by growing demand for rhino horns in Vietnam and other southeast Asian countries, where the horns are believed to have medicinal uses.
South African regulations limiting trophy hunting of rhinos allow a hunter to legally shoot one rhino a year, with a permit.
But under this newly revealed scheme, Thai prostitutes and strippers, many of whom had been trafficked to South Africa to work in brothels and strip clubs, would pose in sham rhino hunts to skirt the hunting regulations and then export the horns, South Africa’s Media24 reports.
The women were hired by Chumlong Lemtongthai, 43, a Thai man who was arrested last week near Johannesburg, and who was part of a syndicate alleged to have sold at least 40 rhino horns, South African newspapers reported.
The trafficking syndicate would hunt rhinos, and then the rhino horn trophies would be shipped from South Africa to southeast Asia, Media24 reports.
“Investigators believe the restriction forced the syndicate to find an ever-changing pool of new "hunters" who could apply for permits and ensure a steady supply of rhino horn trophies,” Media24 reports.
Chumlong paid $9,600 (65,000 rands) a kilo for the horns and sold them on the black market for $55,000 (380,000 rands) a kilo, according to media reports.
The Thai sex workers, who were said to have never fired a shot in their lives, would appear in photos holding a rifle next to the dead rhino.
In 2010, 333 rhinos were killed illegally for their horns — a dramatic increase from only 13 rhinos poached in 2007. Already this year, more than 200 rhinos have been killed.