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US rhino horn smuggling ring cracked, with arrests in four states under 'Operation Crash'

US authorities arrested seven people after an 18-month investigation into trafficking of rhino horns from the United States to China and Vietnam.

Rhino horn 2011 11 04Enlarge
Two male rhinos lock horns playfully while pasturing in the savanah at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya. (ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)

US authorities have cracked a rhino horn smuggling ring, arresting seven people in California, Texas, New York and New Jersey in the last week.

The arrests follow an 18-month investigation called "Operation Crash" after the collective noun for rhinoceroses, the Los Angeles Times reported. (Yes, that would be a "crash" of rhinos. Awesome, right?).

Authorities seized 20 rhino horns, as well as $1 million in cash, diamonds and Rolex watches bought with profits from the illegal sale of horns.

The international smuggling ring had for years trafficked in rhino horns, which can be sold for up to $65,000 a kilogram in Vietnam and China, where they are believed to cure cancer, as well as headaches and hangovers. Experts say the horns have no medicinal value.

"By taking out this ring of rhino horn traffickers, we have shut down a major source of black market horn and dealt a serious blow to rhino horn smuggling both in the US and globally," US Fish and Wildlife director Dan Ashe told the LA Times.

More from GlobalPost: South Africa: Rhino poaching at record high

The sale of rhino horns has been banned since 1976 under CITES, the international agreement on trade in endangered species. Rhino horn trafficking also violates US federal laws protecting rare and endangered species.

Rising demand for rhino horns in East Asia has caused a poaching crisis in South Africa, home to 80 percent of the world's rhinos. A record 448 rhinos were killed for their horns in 2011.

According to the LA Times, "in the United States, traders are obtaining and illegally transporting horns from auction houses, antique shops and hunters' trophy walls."

"The rhino is an animal of prehistoric origin that is facing possible extinction because of an illegal trade for its horns on the black market that is driven by greed," Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division, told the Associated Press.

More from GlobalPost: South Africa: Rhino killed during anti-poaching event

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/united-states/120224/us-rhino-horn-ring-cracked-operation-crash