NEWS AND VIEWS (COMMENTS): Tran Kieu Trang, 30, a Vietnamese smuggler, attempted to smuggle 127 lion claws and 36 lion teeth through Mozambique’s international airport together with, incidentally, 4.3 kg of rhino horn. She tried to confuse Sasa, a six year old German Shephard sniffer dog trained to detect this sort of contraband by packing the lion body parts with biscuits and chocolates. It didn’t work because these dogs are incredibly effective. The canine nose is often better than any technology that humankind can currently devise as is indicated by the success of the coronavirus sniffer dogs who are able to detect the virus in people before laboratory tests can.
In this instance the woman was carrying the prohibited wildlife products in two suitcases. It is estimated that at least a dozen lions would have been killed for such a haul. She was checked in to a flight to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s largest city. She was arrested on charges of smuggling prohibited wildlife products. The punishment on conviction is 16 years in prison.
We are told that the police said that she had lived in Maputo, Mozambique’s capital for 10 years and had been travelling regularly to Vietnam. We have to conclude, therefore, that she has been regularly trading in iconic wildlife animal parts which does not surprise me at all. Lions are particularly abused in this regard. For instance, in South Africa, they are bred in farms and then shot in canned lion hunts and then the body parts are shipped out to Asia. There is an international treaty, for those who aren’t aware of it, called CITES which stands for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. It is an international agreement which is meant to prevent this sort of smuggling of body parts. Enforcement is lax at best which is why the trade is worth billions of dollars annually.
The reason why this woman was smuggling out these products to Vietnam is because they believe in Vietnam that rhino horn has medicinal qualities when ground down to a powder. They believe it’s a cure for cancer to erectile dysfunction and it can be worth up to £48,000 per kilo in Asia.
Mozambique is being raided by poachers acting, it appears, with impunity. For example, between 2009 and 2014 the country lost nearly half of its 20,000 elephants to poaching for their ivory. Sasa is one member of a team trying to make inroads into this trade. She is part of a specialised detection dogs team created in 2018 and deployed at Mozambique’s most notorious transit junctions. The dog was imported from Slovakia as one of the canine unit’s earliest members. She can also detect ivory and pangolin scales. Pangolins are the most persecuted animal on the planet, once again to feed the Chinese traditional medicine market where they believe the scales have medicinal qualities. It is believed that the coronavirus pandemic was started when a bat transmitted the virus to a pangolin and the pangolin was slaughtered informally under little or no restrictions at a wet food market in Wuhan. One of the workers in that market got the disease and it spread from there.