Customs officials at Kuala Lumpur airport found the parts in cardboard boxes on August 13, Malaysia’s Wildlife Department said on Monday.
Datuk Abdul Kadir Abu Hashim, the department chief, said officials found a huge stash of animal bones – believed to be from tigers and leopards – in the same shipment.
Animal carcasses were also found in the boxes.
Abu Hashim said the rhino bones alone weighed 116kg, adding that the seizure was “the biggest ever in [Malaysia’s] history in terms of the number of horns and value.”
“All the wildlife items confiscated were to be exported out of Malaysia without a proper permit,” he said in a statement, adding that the department will run DNA tests to identify each wildlife species found.
The shipment, valued at $11.7m, was bound for Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.
TRAFFIC, a group which monitors the illegal wildlife trade, said the case highlighted links between traffickers in Malaysia and Vietnam.
“This was a very unusual mix of wildlife parts found – rhino horns which were clearly not from Asia and carnivore carcasses which could have originated from the country,” TRAFFIC’s acting Southeast Asia director Kanitha Krishnasamy said in a statement.
“This discovery raises questions about how criminals are accumulating wildlife parts and using a multitude of routes and methods to traffic them onwards to destination countries.”
Vietnam is a big market for rhino horn, which is believed to have medicinal properties and is in high demand among the country’s growing middle class.
A single kilo of rhino horn can be valued at tens of thousands of dollars in the region, where many falsely believe it can cure cancer.
All rhino species are under threat of extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Authorities have not made any arrests over the seizures yet.
In April 2017, Malaysia seized about $3.1m worth of rhino horns flown in from Mozambique.
Separately, authorities arrested a man on July 13 for illegal possession of three baby Sumatran orangutan.