Despite there being laws already in place to protect the rhino, governments and communities are not doing enough to confront the illegal trade in rhino horn from Africa to Vietnam. Despite its cruelty, illegal wildlife trade is not given the priority it deserves. In many areas, offenders are confident that they can operate with relative impunity, and that the penalties if they are caught, are not significant. Basically, this means that the trade of the rhino horn is low risk and high profit business.
Over the last five years there has been a dramatic rise in the incidence of rhino poaching, notably in South Africa, custodian of the world’s largest remaining populations. Previously secure populations are now being targeted by increasingly sophisticated and aggressive poaching operations, apparently backed by international organised crime syndicates. In addition to South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe and India have all reported losing large numbers of rhinos to poachers. In the past three years, both Mozambique and Vietnam have seen their rhino populations go extinct. Conservationists warn that in South Africa both the black and white rhino could be extinct in the wild by 2026.
In September 2012, the United Nations officially recognized the illegal wildlife trade as a new form of organised crime, and leading political figures, including Hillary Clinton, have given their commitment to combat this traffic. African states, including Cameroon and Gabon protection for endangered species, have also increased their efforts, allocating further resources to combat poaching. Furthermore, Chinese e-commerce websites (controlling nearly 95% of the online market) have committed to adopt a “zero tolerance” policy to the sale of wildlife products through their websites.
Despite global recognition of the problem, such measures have not yielded significant results. One of the main challenges to this campaign was emphasised in a 2012 report published by wildlife monitoring network, TRAFFIC, ‘The South Africa – Viet Nam Rhino Horn Trade Nexus’, where the demand for rhino horn in Vietnam was identified as one of the main driving forces for the escalating poaching of rhinos.
The current poaching crisis for African rhinos is driven largely by demand in Viet Nam. The rhino horn is valued as an ingredient in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments from fever to hallucination and headaches, as well as, as a status symbol of wealth and power. Since 1977, CITES has repeatedly attempted to shut down the rhino horn market globally through an international trade ban. However, associated anti-trade measures have driven market activity underground, failing to effectively end it. Consequently trade has become increasingly difficult to monitor and there is a lack of credible data available to allow for a rigorous market analysis.
Director, My Green World.