An announcement made today by WWF confirms that 2011′s rhino death toll in South Africa reached a record-breaking 448.
Of the 448 rhinos murdered for their horns, 19 were critically endangered black rhinos.
252 of the rhino killings occurred in Kruger National Park, where eight rhinos were found butchered earlier this week.
Rhino horn is not medicine
Rhinos are being killed because of the continued use of rhino horn in traditional Chinese medicine — and recent rumors that rhino horn can cure everything from hangovers to cancer — despite the fact rhino horn has no medicinal value.
Even traditional Chinese medicine experts have stated that rhino horn has no proven cancer-treating properties.
Dr. Tim Milliken of the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC notes that rhino horn is a popular gift among wealthy Vietnamese people.
Rhino horn has gained popularity among wealthy Vietnamese elites and business people to give as a gift, when currying political favor, or taking as an antidote to overindulgence.
But killing endangered rhinos to mitigate a hangover is a criminal way to see in the New Year.
Contrary to popular belief, rhino horn has never been prescribed as an aphrodisiac.
Focus on syndicate ‘kingpins’
South African authorities arrested 232 people for rhino-related crimes in 2011, compared to 165 arrests made in 2010.
However, Dr. Morné du Plessis, CEO of WWF-South Africa explains that syndicate “kingpins” must be the focus of rhino poaching investigations.
Rhino poaching is being conducted by sophisticated international criminal syndicates that smuggle horns to Asia.
It’s not enough to bust the little guy; investigators need to shut down the kingpins organizing these criminal operations. Governments in Africa and Asia must work together across borders to stop the illegal trade.
Enforcement treaty still unsigned
As one of the major rhino horn consumer countries, Vietnam was singled out by CITES to “curtail illegal trade in rhino parts and derivatives”.
WWF’s wildlife trade policy analyst, Dr. Colman O Criodain, would like to see more pressure on Vietnam.
So far we have yet to see Vietnam respond to this ruling from CITES.
For that matter, CITES must put pressure on Vietnam to respond meaningfully, as it has done with other countries whose compliance with the Convention has been called into question.
In September 2011, a bilateral treaty to ramp up law enforcement collaboration between South Africa and Vietnam was negotiated.
According to WWF, the treaty is still unsigned.
Undermining rhino conservation
Meanwhile, in China, a rhino farming scheme which undermines rhino conservation efforts by promoting the use of rhino horn is under way.
Video of a “rhino farm” in China:
South African wildlife authorities have approved the export of over 100 live rhinos to China since 2007.
Rhino extinctions and survivors
Rhino populations with IUCN classification (source: WWF)
- Javan rhino: Fewer than 50 (Critically Endangered)
- Sumatran rhino: Fewer than 200 (Critically Endangered)
- Black rhino: 4,838 (Critically Endangered)
- Greater one-horned rhinos: 2,913 (Vulnerable)
- White rhino: Approx. 20,000 (Near Threatened)
The white rhino and greater one-horned rhino once numbered fewer than 100 individuals.
Photos © & courtesy of WWF.
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.