Tanzania jails four Chinese for 20 years for smuggling rhino horns

Dar es Salaam (AFP) - A Tanzanian court jailed four Chinese men for 20 years after they were caught smuggling 11 rhino horns, one of the largest seizures ever made in the east African nation, a lawyer said Friday.

"The convicts are also required to pay a fine of $800 each, apart from the jail sentence," state attorney Wankyo Simon told AFP by telephone, from Tanzania's south-western Mbeya region.

The four men, identified as Song Lei, Xiao Shaodan, Chen Jianlian and Hu Liang, were arrested in the Mbeya region last month as they crossed into Tanzania from Malawi. They were sentenced on Wednesday.

Hundreds of rhinos are massacred every year for their horn, which is used in East Asia for its supposed medicinal qualities.

Demand for rhinoceros horn -- made of keratin, which is also found in hair and nails -- has boomed in Vietnam and China, where it is valued for its supposed medicinal properties.

The highest levels of rhino poaching takes place in South Africa, which is home to around 20,000 rhino, or 80 percent of the world population.

Poaching is rampant in east African nations including Tanzania and Kenya, but poachers there focus more on elephant killing.