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Environment - Crime

NGO sounds poaching alarm on World Rhino Day

The white rhino
The white rhino © Martin Harvey / WWF-Canon

Today is World Rhino Day, an opportunity to celebrate and focus the world's attention on all five rhinoceros species to be found in Africa and Asia: the black, white, greater one-horned, sumatran and javan rhinos.

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All five rhino species are endangered, but Africa's white rhino and black rhino bear the brunt of poaching.

According to TRAFFIC, a NGO working globally on wildlife trade, 2016 is the worst year in two decades for rhino poaching. It says the number of illegally killed rhinos has reached a sobering record at 1,342.

Still according to the same group, a resurgent trade in rhino horns taking place in numerous Asian countries is to blame.

"Vietnam is the leading consumer of rhino horn and has been driving the escalating poaching of rhinos that has been increasing since 2007," TRAFFIC's Rhino Programme Coordinator, Tom Milliken, told RFI. "Resurgent demand in China is also another factor."

Milliken says going back to traditional Asian medicine, rhinos were used as a substance in combination with herbs to reduce fever. But he notes that in this era, aspirin can achieve the same end in a more cost effective way.

"What we've seen now," said Milliken, "is [...] rhino horn consumption is being viewed as a status symbol. And that in places like Vietnam, you have rhino horn being ground into powder and then put into people's drinks at a party, with the notion that it will prevent a hangover. And because it is an illegal substance, because the people who are doing this can show that they have connections to get it... [that] it's a very expensive thing, they receive status as a result."

South Africa has the largest number of rhinos left on earth, which Milliken estimates represents about 85 percent of all the rhinos left in Africa. He says the country is losing approximately three rhinos every day.

"Most of the horns are now being smuggled into Mozambique, which is the leading export country in Africa, although it has almost no rhinos left of its own."

Milliken says wildlife crime remains difficult to fight in Africa in part because criminal syndicates are well-entrenched in Africa and corrupt within its systems, and in part because foreigners operate using language and technology that is hard for local government officials to decode.

"We need to continually start exposing and embarrassing countries," said Milliken. He cited Thailand as a good example of how sanctions can work to change national legislation and crack down on the illegal trade. 

You may follow Zeenat Hansrod on twitter @zxnt

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