Changing Planet

Rhinos Seriously Threatened by Poaching Surge, CITES Hears

Rhinos are falling to poachers at the rate of two to three per week in some areas as Asian demand for their horns escalates, according to a report to the 58th meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Standing Committee this week in Geneva.

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Photo of white rhino poached for horn by Martin harvey/WWF-Canon

Poachers in Africa and Asia are killing an ever increasing number of rhinos to meet a growing demand for horns believed in some countries to have medicinal value, says the briefing to the international wildlife trade regulation body by WWF, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and their affiliated wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

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An estimated three rhinos were illegally killed each month in all of Africa from 2000-05, out of a population of around 18,000, the groups said in a news statement today. “In contrast, 12 rhinoceroses now are being poached each month in South Africa and Zimbabwe alone.”

“Illegal rhino horn trade to destinations in Asia is driving the killing, with growing evidence of involvement of Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai nationals in the illegal procurement and transport of rhino horn out of Africa,” the briefing states.

NGS photo of knives made with rhino horn on sale in Yemen by Steve Raymer

Rhino poaching is also a problem in Asia. About 10 rhinos have been poached in India and at least seven in Nepal since January alone–out of a combined population of only 2,400 endangered rhinos.

“Rhinos are in a desperate situation …This is the worst rhino poaching we have seen in many years and it is critical for governments to stand up and take action.”

“Rhinos are in a desperate situation,” said Susan Lieberman, director of the Species Programme, WWF-International. “This is the worst rhino poaching we have seen in many years and it is critical for governments to stand up and take action to stop this deadly threat to rhinos worldwide.

“It is time to crack down on organized criminal elements responsible for this trade, and to vastly increase assistance to range countries in their enforcement efforts.”

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Almost all rhino species are listed in CITES (the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) in Appendix I, which means that any international trade of any rhino parts for commercial purposes is illegal.

“Increased demand for rhino horn, alongside a lack of law enforcement, a low level of prosecutions for poachers who are actually arrested and increasingly daring attempts by poachers and thieves to obtain the horn is proving to be too much for rhinos and some populations are seriously declining,” said Steven Broad, executive director of TRAFFIC.

NGS photo of slices of rhino horn sold in Japan as aphrodisiacs by Steve Raymer.

The situation is particularly dire in Zimbabwe where such problems are threatening the success of more than a decade’s work of bringing rhino populations back to healthy levels, the briefing said.

“For example, earlier this week a park ranger arrested with overwhelming evidence against him for having killed three rhinos in the Chipinge Safari Area, was acquitted without any satisfactory explanation for the verdict.

“Similarly, in September 2008, a gang of four Zimbabwean poachers who admitted to killing 18 rhinos were also freed in a failed judiciary process.”

Firm International Action

The briefing concludes that governments need “an accurate and up-to-date picture of the status, conservation and trade in African and Asian rhinoceroses, as well as the factors driving the consumption of rhinoceros horn, so that firm international action can be taken to arrest this immediate threat to rhinoceros populations worldwide.”

“Rhino populations in both Africa and Asia are being seriously threatened by poaching and illegal trade,” said Jane Smart, director of IUCN’s Biodiversity Conservation Group. “IUCN and its African and Asian Rhino Specialist Groups are working hard to gather data and information on rhinos so that CITES parties can make informed decisions and ensure that rhinos are still here for generations to come.”

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NGS photo of live rhinos in Africa by Robert Sisson

The 58th meeting of the CITES Standing Committee is being held in Geneva from July 6 -10 . This issue will be further discussed at the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, which will be held in Doha, Qatar March 13-25, 2010.

CITES is an international agreement between 175 governments that aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

Forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. He has 120,000 followers on social media. David Braun edits the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn
  • frankie owens

    i understand the rhinos horns are a big deal but why kill such a precious animal thats near extinct because of poachinfg

  • Duncan MacRae

    Hi my name is Duncan
    is there any chance that you people can also get on board with our local radio station east coast radio they are running a drive to save the rhino’s , the few that are left, I figured that you guys have made millions on your wildlife films so how about giving something back to the wild

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