Rhino Crisis Round Up: Belgian Bust, China Clams Up & Make Way for DNA

The rhino crisis continues to span international boundaries, with the thriving illegal market for rhino horn tempting more thieves in Europe — and taking more innocent lives in South Africa.

Meanwhile, China is still sitting in the hot seat.

Busted in Belgium

In the latest museum incident, police in Belgium arrested a pair of rhino horn thieves who attempted to steal the head of a rhinoceros from the Liege natural science museum.

One of the suspects tore a horn off the stuffed rhino head and sprayed tear gas on the museum guards before getting into a waiting vehicle.

According to Expatica.com the two were taken into custody after being stopped at a roadblock.

The rhino’s horn was returned to the museum, where it will hopefully be placed in a secure location.

(As you may recall from last week, museums were warned to remove rhino horn from displays and online databases because of increased rhino horn thefts.)

China refuses media questions about rhino horn scheme

China’s multimillion dollar rhino horn scheme continues to be a topic of international interest.

Reporters Daniel Foggo and Simon Parry wrote in The Sunday Times UK that efforts to discuss the matter with Longhui Pharmaceutical were refused by “a spokesman who gave his name as Mr. Zhao”.

A representative of the wildlife trade monitoring group TRAFFIC was quoted as saying that “every key conservation issue in the book has been totally ignored” and China “would be confronted” at the upcoming CITES standing committee meeting in August.

Get the backstory: Suspicions Confirmed: China Investing Millions in Rhino Horn Scheme.

Another baby rhino orphaned

Tragedy struck at a private game farm in Limpopo Province, South Africa, when a female white rhino was reportedly killed for her horns, and her calf was shot.

According to iafrica.com, a search was initiated in hopes of locating the four-month-old calf.

Unfortunately, this is by no means an isolated incident.

This is Vusi. In December 2010, he witnessed the brutal murder of his mother and sister in the Botsalano Game Reserve near the Botswana border.

Read Vusi’s story here.

There have also been several instances in which the baby rhinos are killed, simply because they get in the way while the murderers hack off the mother’s horns, or for their own tiny stump of a horn.

For example, in early 2008, the agonizing deaths of a greater one-horned rhino and her calf were caught on film in India’s Kaziranga National Park.


Rhino death toll continues to climb in South Africa

Besides the Limpopo Province loss mentioned above, sources outside the media claim that at least 12 rhinos – including one pregnant female – were killed in the last 14 days.

Nearly three weeks ago, South African National Parks (SANParks) announced that the country already had lost 173 rhinos to the illegal rhino horn trade since the beginning of the year.


Fortunately, a new weapon has been added to the battle to protect South Africa’s iconic pachyderms.

Earlier this week, the faculty of Veterinary Services of the University of Pretoria provided SANParks with 1,000 DNA kits to aid in the prosecution of rhino killers.

Head of Veterinary Genetics Laboratory (VGL) at the Faculty of Veterinary Science, Dr. Cindy Harper, said in a media release that forensic DNA testing would help support rhino crime investigations.

The ability to obtain a full DNA profile from rhino horn allows us to match recovered horns to specific poaching incidents.

This is very encouraging news, as DNA evidence has a track record of securing successful prosecutions in South Africa’s war against rhino crimes:

  • June 2011: DNA analysis of the rhino and horns helped convict of two Mozambican nationals, who were sentenced to a combined total of 16 years in prison
  • April 2011: DNA evidence helped put two killers behind bars for a combined total of 19 years
  • June 2010: A Vietnamese rhino horn smuggler was sentenced to 10 years in prison after the rhino horns in his possession were found to be a DNA match to rhinos that were killed a few days earlier

What you can do

Help spread the word about these vile crimes that are being committed because of myths about rhino horn.

Learn more about the rhino crisis and the illegal trade in rhino horn at:

You can also support counter poaching initiatives at International Rhino Foundation.

Photos #1, 2 & 4 – © iStockphoto.com; #3 courtesy and © Pam Krzyza.

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