A Malaysian man who sold a dozen black rhino and white rhino horns to a confidential source was sentenced to a year and a half in a U.S. prison Tuesday, federal prosecutors in New York said. Teo Boon Ching, known as the “Godfather,” had pleaded guilty to a count of conspiracy to commit wildlife trafficking, the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan said in a statement.
“As long as you have cash, I can give you the goods in 1-2 days,” Ching, 58, told the confidential source during a meeting in Malaysia in 2019, according to prosecutors.
The Malaysia meetings lasted for two days, and during that time, Ching described himself as a “middleman” who buys rhino horns poached by co-conspirators in Africa and ships them to customers around the world, according to prosecutors. Ching also sent the source photos of rhino horns that were for sale.
Later that year, authorities directed the source to buy 12 rhino horns from Ching, which were delivered to the source in a suitcase. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lab confirmed two of the horns were from a black rhino, which the World Wildlife Fund considers to be critically endangered, and the other 10 horns were from white rhinos, which are not considered to be endangered but are instead “near threatened,” according to the group.
Ching was arrested in Thailand in 2022 and eventually extradited to the U.S. According to prosecutors, he conspired to traffic approximately 480 pounds of poached rhino horns worth about $2.1 million.
“Wildlife trafficking is a serious threat to the natural resources and the ecological heritage shared by communities across the globe, enriching poachers responsible for the senseless illegal slaughter of numerous endangered rhinoceros and furthering the market for these illicit products,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement.
Why are rhino horns poached?
High demand for rhino horns has fueled an illegal market. In parts of Asia, the horns are thought to have unproven, powerful medicinal properties and at one point they were more expensive than cocaine in Vietnam.
Even though the horns grow back, poachers kill rhinos instead of sedating them to cut off the horns. In response, several initiatives have been launched to thwart poachers, including moving rhinos to different parts of Africa to get them out of poachers’ reach and also safely removing rhinos’ horns so they’re not targeted.
What is a rhino horn made of?
Rhino horns are made of the protein keratin, which is also found in fingernails and toenails.