In what has become one of the worst assaults on the world’s rhinos in recent history, the news continues to shock even the most seasoned wildlife conservationists.
During the last two weeks (or so), no fewer than seven countries have been struck by the scourge that is driven by the demand for illegal rhino horn.
Illegal rhino horn trade in Germany? Italy? The UK?
Yes, the illegal rhino horn market has become so widespread that traders are striking seemingly unlikely targets: Museums.
Rhino horns were recently stolen from museums in Bamberg, Oerrel, and Hamburg.
- A rhino horn theft was discovered earlier this month at the Bamberger Nature Museum; it is unknown when the incident actually occurred.
- Three rhino horns were also stolen from the Museum of Natural History of Florence, Italy.
- Last month, a rhino head was stolen from the Haslemere Educational Museum in Surrey, England.
Museums have since been advised to remove rhino horns from display.
Five years of peace shattered
For the first time since 2006, a greater one-horned rhino was killed by an armed gang in Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary, located in the Indian state of Assam.
The male rhino endured six bullets from a .303 rifle before succumbing. His assailants fired on forest guards before fleeing under the cover of darkness with the rhino’s horn.
A teacher at a local primary school was arrested for his involvement in the rhino’s murder.
Rhino killed in Swaziland for the first time in 20 years
Although Swaziland has some of the toughest rhino crime deterrents around (mandatory prison sentences), the country was recently struck for the first time in nearly 20 years when a female white rhino was shot and killed in Hlane Royal Park.
Two suspects were later arrested with hunting rifles in their possession; authorities believe the rhino’s horns have already entered the illegal market.
Rhino death toll (and arrests) on the rise in South Africa
Hardest hit in the rhino crisis is South Africa.
According to South Africa National Parks (SANParks), at least 173 iconic pachyderms have fallen victim to the illegal rhino horn trade since the start of the year.
Nearly 70% of this number represents rhinos killed in the world-famous Kruger National Park.
In addition, 20 rhino killing suspects died as a result of their criminal pursuits.
Since SANParks’ release ( June 6th), sources outside the media have reported that two white rhinos were killed in Limpopo Province near the Botswana border, tragically raising the toll to 175.
Meanwhile, 122 rhino crime-related arrests have been made and
two Mozambican nationals were sentenced to prison in South Africa.
China’s rhino horn scheme confirmed
In fact, China has been spending the last five years or so undermining global rhino conservation efforts by pumping millions of dollars into encouraging demand for rhino horn.
Read more about this (very) inconvenient truth at Suspicions Confirmed: China Investing Millions in Rhino Horn Scheme.
Contrary to many Western perceptions, “rhino poaching” is not about a few guys running around in the bush, trying to feed their families.
WARNING: THIS VIDEO CONTAINS EXTREMELY GRAPHIC IMAGES.
Rather, the illegal trade in rhino horn is operated by a well-funded, sophisticated network of international organized crime syndicates. It requires the involvement of corrupt officials at the local, national, and international levels.
And schemes like the “rhino farm” operation in China demonstrate how legal trade loopholes are being exploited to increase demand for rhino horn, which in turn, keeps all of the other illegal operations funded.
(Speaking of corruption, several unscrupulous members of the South African wildlife conservation community were exposed in 2010 for butchering rhinos, laundering money, and trafficking of illegal rhino horn: The high-profile “Groenewald gang” returns to court in September 2011.)
Ray of hope from Uganda
Amidst the horror, a ray of hope has emerged from Uganda: Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary celebrated the historic birth of the country’s first female rhino in 30 years.
This was the second time mother “Nandi” has made history, as she gave birth in June 2009 to Uganda’s very first calf – named Obama – following the regional extinction of the species in 1982. The new arrival is the fourth baby rhino born at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, after Obama, Augustus, and Justice.
Be sure to check out photos of cute baby rhinos at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary!
Take the first step
At the heart of the bloodshed, corruption, and greed is the continued belief that rhino horn has medicinal value.
However, rhino horn has been rigorously analyzed and contains no curative properties. (You might as well chew your own fingernails.)
Bringing the rhino crisis to the public’s attention is a critical first step in disrupting the illegal rhino horn trade – and you can make a difference by sharing information!
Check out Rhino Horn = Medicine? NO! (New Campaign to Bust the Myth) to get started.
All images via iStockphoto.com
Rhishja is the founder of Annamiticus, a nonprofit organization which provides educational information and news about wildlife crime and endangered species. She is the Editor of the blogs Annamiticus, Rhino Horn is Not Medicine, and Project Pangolin, a Producer for the upcoming documentary "The Price", author of the book "Murder, Myths & Medicine", and host of the "Behind the Schemes" podcast. When Rhishja is not blogging about the illegal wildlife trade, she enjoys rocking out to live music.