The rhino poaching crisis in South Africa is at an unprecedented level. The number of rhinos slaughtered by poachers increased by more than 3,000 percent between 2007 and 2011. And now we know the fate of South Africa’s rhinos is inextricably linked with market demand in Vietnam—a country that recently saw its own rhino population slip into extinction.
A new report from TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, documents the rising rhino poaching crisis in South Africa, detailing issues such as loopholes in sport hunting policy and surging demand for horn in Vietnam.
Vietnamese consumers—the main market for rhino horn—mistakenly believe in rhino horn’s detoxification properties, notes the report. Wealthy users grind up rhino horn and mix the powder with water or alcohol as a hangover cure and general health tonic. The horn is also consumed as a supposed cancer cure by terminally ill patients. Rhino horn traders deliberately target these patients as part of a cruel marketing ploy to increase the profitability of the illicit trade.
Criminals are increasingly turning to other sources for horns. In recent years at least 65 rhino horns have been stolen from public display within South Africa. Similar thefts have been carried out in the United States and in Europe.
The report calls for a number of measures to stem the crisis, including for Vietnam to review and strengthen legislation and penalties concerning illegal rhino horn trade, and to employ effective law enforcement strategies in the market place.
Wildlife crime syndicates in South Africa have also been linked to other criminal activities such as drug and diamond smuggling, human trafficking and illegal trade in other wildlife products like elephant ivory and abalone.
“It boggles the mind that countries, including Vietnam, are allowed to ignore international law when it comes to illegal wildlife trade,” said Crawford Allan, TRAFFIC North America Regional Director. “Illegal wildlife trade is like a gateway drug—allowing it to flourish encourages all kinds of other criminal activities, including money laundering and human trafficking.”