HELPING ENDANGERED RHINOCEROS AND CRACKING DOWN ON RHINO POACHING

HELPING BELEAGUERED RHINOS


Christy Williams from the World Wildlife Fund’s Asian Rhino and Elephant Program said that while the international community had paid significant attention to the plight of the black rhinoceros and white rhinoceros in Africa, relatively little focus had been given to Asian species. However, there are proven examples of rhino populations bouncing back from the brink. Committed action by governments has doubled the number of rhinos in West Bengal in India over the last 13 years, for example. Crackdowns on poachers have also given a boost to rhinos in Nepal and India.

In July 2012 the WWF said Chinese authorities should be recognised for their strong and effective efforts to stop the rhino horn trade within their borders. WWF said China banned using rhino horn for traditional medicines in 1993, and authorities had followed through with periodic crackdowns that were effective in stopping it being sold in pharmacies. [Source: AFP, July 23, 2012]

Former Chinese NBA basketball player Yao Ming has become an activist and conservationist intent on weaning the Chinese off their fondness for rhino horn, elephant ivory and shark fin soup. He has visited Kenya to raise awareness about the rhino horn and ivory issues and made a film there called “End of the Wild".

Protecting Rhinos in 1990s


Richard Conniff wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “In the 1990s, under strong international pressure, China removed rhino horn from the list of traditional medicine ingredients approved for commercial manufacturing, and Arab countries began to promote synthetic dagger handles. At the same time, African nations bolstered their protective measures, and the combined effort seemed to reduce poaching to a tolerable minimum. [Source: Richard Conniff, Smithsonian magazine, November 2011]

The sale of rhinoceros horn was banned in 1976. In an attempt to deter poachers, some countries deliberately cut off the horn from live rhinos to keep poachers from taking them. In many national park with rhinoceros, rangers were given orders to shoot to kill if they encountered poachers. Poachers didn't dare go near the game lodges and parks. Rhino seems to sense this. The 30 or so rare northern white rhinos in Zaire's Garamba National were protected with the help of radio transmitters in their horns.

Wildlife officials in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia were among those that sawed off the horns of live rhinos. The animals were first sedated with a tranquilizer and then the horns were removed with a chain saw. Between 1989, when the program started, and 1993 around 500 rhinos had their horns removed (horns grow back at a rate of a few inches a year). Few dehorned animals were poached, and the horns themselves were stored under tight security in warehouses. Dehorned rhinos appeared to behave no differently from other rhinos. Two hornless mothers have given birth to calves. [National Geographic Geographica, April 1993].

Come Back of the Rhino the late 1990s and Early 2000s

Rhinoceros populations in some places have made significant comebacks. Rhino populations have tripled in Nepal since 1966 with the help of 500 armed soldiers protecting them. In Assam India their population have doubled.

After the crack down on poaching and the sale of rhino horn in the 1990s black rhinoceros populations in South Africa---where they have a motivated and well-trained rhino management team---grew at a rate of five percent a year and white rhino populations got so large there were worries they might have to be culled.

Black rhinos population, which dropped to fewer than 2,500 animals during the poaching crisis of the 1990s, rebounded to about 4,800 in 2011. At the same time conservation programs produced a steady surplus of white rhinos, some of which were relocated to new locations. White rhinos these days are relatively easy to reproduce and their rather docile cow-like temperament makes them easy to manage.

Richard Conniff wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “Building up the black rhino population today is more challenging, in part, because human populations have boomed, rapidly eating up open space. Ideas about what the animals need have also changed. Not too long ago, said Jacques Flamand of the World Wildlife Fund, conservationists thought an area of about 23 square miles---the size of Manhattan---would be enough for a founding population of a half-dozen black rhinos. But recent research says it takes 20 founders to be genetically viable, and they need about 77 square miles of land. Many rural landowners in South Africa want black rhinos for their game farms and safari lodges. But few of them control that much land, and black rhinos are far more expensive than whites, selling at wildlife auctions for about $70,000 apiece before the practice was suspended. [Source: Richard Conniff, Smithsonian magazine, November 2011]

Protecting Rhinos in the 2000s


poisoning the horn

In April 2012, Yara Bayoumy of Reuters wrote: “Better surveillance and stiffer penalties must be imposed to combat rhino poaching in Africa, regional conservation officials said at a two-day summit hosted by the African Wildlife Foundation, which brought together representatives from Botswana, Kenya, South Africa, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe as well as the United States. The summit called for more advanced communication technology, vehicles and helicopters to help anti-poaching units as poachers resort to more sophisticated methods to kill rhinos. [Source: Yara Bayoumy, Reuters, April 4, 2012]

“Julius Kipng'etich, director of the Kenya Wildlife Service, said prevention was key, but if rhino were killed the poachers must be hunted down and investigations carried out. Kenya killed six poachers in the first three months in 2012 hunting for elephant, buffalo and rhinos, compared to an average of six poachers per year over the past three years. [Ibid]

The conference also recommended harsher penalties be imposed on the illegal trade coupled with improved detection by using sniffer dogs at airports. "And then of course ... the consuming countries must be educated because the myths around rhino horn is just ridiculous," Kipng'etich said. "When you talk about rhino horn, what drives it? It used to be an aphrodisiac. But because Viagra came, that has now been dropped. (Now they say it cures) cancer, you see how the criminals change tune?" Kipng'etich said. [Ibid]

Discussions with traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioners to reduce its use have met with mixed results since some TCM doctors see rhinoceros horn as a life-saving medicine of better quality than substitutes. Conniff wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “Medical experts have repeated debunked the notion that rhino horn has health benefits and a great effort is being made to get the word out in places where rhino horn is consumed, but fighting the rumors of miracle cures is proving to be almost impossible. “If it was a real person, we could find out what happened and maybe demystify it,” Milliken told Smithsonian magazine. For Milliken, the one hopeful sign is that the price for rhino horn seems to have spiked too quickly to be attributable to increased demand alone. That is, the current crisis may be a case of the madness of crowds---an economic bubble inflated by speculative buying in Asia. If so, like other bubbles, it will eventually go bust. [Source: Richard Conniff, Smithsonian magazine, November 2011]

As was the case in the 1990s some parks and reserves took the extreme measure of sawing off the horns of rhinos to take the incentive for killing them. One conservationist in Kenya told AFP, “With the increase of poaching in Kenya, we simply not taking any chances...Without a horn these rhinos are of no value to poachers.”

Rhino Safe House in South Africa

Describing the reserves where white and black rhinos are kept in South Africa, Richard Conniff wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “These new rhino habitats are like safe houses, and because of the renewed threat of poaching, they are high-tech safe houses at that. Caretakers often notch an animal’s ear to make it easier to identify, implant a microchip in its horn for radio frequency identification, camera-trap it, register it in a genetic database and otherwise monitor it by every available means short of a breathalyzer. [Source: Richard Conniff, Smithsonian magazine, November 2011]

In 2011, “Somkhanda Game Reserve installed a system that requires implanting a GPS device the size of D-cell batteries in the horn of every rhino on the property. Receivers mounted on utility poles register not just an animal’s exact location but also every movement of its head, up and down, back and forth, side to side. A movement that deviates suspiciously from the norm causes an alarm to pop up on a screen at a security company, and the company relays the animal’s location to field rangers back at Somkhanda. “It’s a heavy capital outlay,” said Simon Morgan of Wildlife ACT, which works with conservation groups on wildlife monitoring, “but when you look at the cost of rhinos, it’s worth it. We have made it publicly known that these devices are out there. At this stage, that’s enough to make poachers go elsewhere.”

In the meantime, the rhinos continue to die. At Hluhluwe-iMfolozi, poachers killed 3 black rhinos and 12 whites in 2011. “We have estimated that what we are losing would basically overtake the birthrate in the next two years, and populations will start to drop down,” said San-Mari Ras, a district ranger. From the floor of her office, Ras picked up the skull of a black rhino calf with a neat little bullet hole into its brain. “They will take a rhino horn even at this size,” she said, spreading her thumb and index finger. “That’s how greedy the poachers can be.”

Hunting, Ranching and Protecting Rhinos


dehorning

Richard Conniff wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “Most of the poaching takes place in South Africa, where the very system that helped build up the world’s largest rhino population is now making those same animals more vulnerable. Legal trophy hunting, supposedly under strict environmental limits, has been a key part of rhino management: The hunter pays a fee, which can be $45,000 or more to kill a white rhino. The fees give game farmers an incentive to breed rhinos and keep them on their property. But suddenly the price of rhino horn was so high that the hunting fees became just a minor cost of doing business. Tourists from Asian nations with no history of trophy hunting began showing up for multiple hunts. And wildlife professionals began to cross the line from hunting rhinos to poaching them. [Source: Richard Conniff, Smithsonian magazine, November 2011]

“ Most conservationists believe trophy hunting can be a legitimate contributor to the conservation of rhinos. But they have also seen that hunting creates a moral gray zone. The system depends on harvesting a limited number of rhinos under permits issued by the government. But when the price is right, some trophy-hunting operators apparently find they can justify killing any rhino. Obtaining permits becomes a technicality. The South African government is debating a moratorium on rhino hunting. [Ibid]

Robyn Dixon wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Some support the idea of rhino farming---regularly pruning horns, which grow back---to meet the demand and drive down prices. Others argue that legalizing the trade would only fuel demand, putting the creatures at even more risk.” In South Africa there a number of game ranches with rhinos that raise the animals for tourists and hunter and relocation schemes. A black rhino sells for $40,000 at auction.

Catching Rhino Horn Smugglers in South Africa

Richard Conniff wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “Johannesburg’s bustling O. R. Tambo International Airport is an easy place to get lost in a crowd, and that’s just what a 29-year-old Vietnamese man named Xuan Hoang was hoping to do one day in March last year---just lie low until he could board his flight home. The police dog sniffing the line of passengers didn’t worry him; he’d checked his baggage through to Ho Chi Minh City. But behind the scenes, police were also using X-ray scanners on luggage checked to Vietnam, believed to be the epicenter of a new war on rhinos. And when Hoang’s bag appeared on the screen, they saw the unmistakable shape of rhinoceros horns—six of them, weighing more than 35 pounds and worth up to $500,000 on the black market. [Source: Richard Conniff, Smithsonian magazine, November 2011]

“Investigators suspected the contraband might be linked to a poaching incident a few days earlier on a game farm in Limpopo Province, on South Africa’s northern border. “We have learned over time, as soon as a rhino goes down, in the next two or three days the horns will leave the country,”Col. Johan Jooste of South Africa’s national priority crime unit told Smithsonian magazine. The Limpopo rhinos had been killed in a “chemical poaching,” meaning that hunters, probably in a helicopter, had shot them using darts loaded with an overdose of veterinary tranquilizers. South African courts often require police to connect the horns to a specific poaching incident. “In the past,” said Jooste, “we needed to physically fit a horn on a skull to see if we had a match. But that was not always possible, because we didn’t have the skull, or it was cut too cleanly.” [Ibid]

Police sent the horns confiscated at the airport to Cindy Harper, head of the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the University of Pretoria. Getting a match with DNA profiling had never worked in the past. Rhino horn consists of a substance like a horse’s hoof, and conventional wisdom said it did not contain the type of DNA needed for individual identifications. But Harper had recently proved otherwise. In her lab a technician applied a drill to each horn to obtain tissue samples, which were then pulverized, liquefied and analyzed in what looked like a battery of fax machines. Two of the horns turned out to match the animals poached on the Limpopo game farm. The odds of another rhino having the same DNA sequence were one in millions, according to Harper. On a continent with only about 25,000 rhinos, that constituted foolproof evidence. A few months later, a judge sentenced Hoang to ten years in prison---the first criminal conviction using DNA fingerprinting of rhino horn. It was a rare victory in a rapidly escalating fight to save the rhinoceros. [Ibid]

A few months after the Vietnamese courier went to prison, police conducted a series of raids in Limpopo Province. Frightened by continued rhino poaching on their land, angry farmers had tipped off investigators to a helicopter they had seen flying low over their properties. Police traced the chopper and arrested Dawie Groenewald, a former police officer, and his wife, Sariette, who operated trophy hunting safaris and ran a game farm in the area. They were charged with being kingpins in a criminal ring that profited from contraband rhino horns and also with poaching rhinos on their neighbors’ game farms. But what shocked the community was the allegation that two local veterinarians, people they had trusted to care for their animals, had been helping to kill them instead. Rising prices for rhino horn, and the prospect of instant wealth, had apparently shattered a lifetime of ethical constraints. [Ibid]

“Conservationists were shocked, too. One of the veterinarians had been a go-between for the Groenewalds when they purchased 36 rhinos from Kruger National Park in 2009. Investigators later turned up a mass grave with 20 rhino carcasses on the Groenewald farm. Hundreds of rhinos were allegedly killed by the conspirators. Thirteen people have been charged in the case so far, and the trial is scheduled for spring of 2012. In the meantime, Groenewald has received several new permits for hunting white rhinos. [Ibid]

South African game rancher Pelham Jones told the Los Angeles Times the police are little help. In one case, they arrived four days after a group of rhinos was killed. In another, a police officer picked up an ax abandoned by the poachers, destroying any fingerprints. The South African government disbanded the police force's endangered-species unit in 2003. The government last year promised to bring back a special-investigations unit -- but critics believe it's not enough to make a difference. [Source: Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times, March 16, 2010]

Combating Rhino Poaching


Tracker Patrol

In January 2013, AFP reported: South African authorities have stepped up anti-poaching operations in the Kruger Park, including deploying the army to the park and a surveillance aircraft. The South African National Park chiefs executive, David Mabunda believes that anti-poaching operations were starting to yield results, despite increased incursions from Mozambique. "Our operations are more militaristic. The number of poachers arrested has increased inside and outside the park," said Mabunda. The vast Kruger Park, which is the country's top safari destination, accounts for 40 percent of the world rhino population. [Source: AFP, January 31, 2013]

Britain’s Prince William is involved in the fight against rhinoceros poachers. He spent part of his gap year at Lewa Wildlife Sanctuary in Kenya, which had 126 rhinos in 2013. When he was there in 2001 poaching was not a problem. Since then the sanctuary has lost 11 animals, five in one year. The prince’s experience at Lewa inspired him to become patron of the UK wildlife charity Tusk Trust, He has spoken publicly against poachers. In June 2013 he called those involved as “extremely ignorant, selfish and utterly wrong”, and warned of the effects on African tourism. [Source: Jessica Hatcher and Valentine Low. The Times, January 3 2013 |=|]

Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, formerly a family-owned cattle ranch, covers 62,000 acres of pristine conservation land and is home to more than 10 per cent of Kenya’s black rhino population. “Lewa is now more than ever determined to counter these threats by increasing our security and monitoring efforts,” said Mike Watson, the sanctuary’s chief executive. Lewa’s 150 armed wildlife rangers are trained to British army standards and granted Kenya Police Reservist status, allowed to carry automatic weapons and make arrests. |=|

Officials and nonprofits in South Africa are pre-emptively cutting some rhinos' horns in an attempt to save them, but some poachers are killing anyway just for the nubs. The poaching of rhinos in South Africa has become such a problem that a local charity has appealed to American musician, 50 Cent, to become a godfather of rhino in order to create global awareness against the vice.

Rachel Nuwer wrote in Scientific American, “Matching DNA extracted from the rhino horns to rhino database records could help the researchers figure out which individual animals were killed, narrowing the scope of the investigation. No one knows how large the trade really is; seizure figures almost certainly represent only a fraction of the total amount of trafficked goods. Based on impounded caches and animals found dead in the field, Milliken estimated that 1,521 rhino horns were destined for East Asia between January 2006 and September 2009. In that time, authorities seized only 43 and a further 129 were found in the field, totaling a dismal 11 percent recovery rate. [Source: Rachel Nuwer, Scientific American, March 26, 2012]

Light Sentences for Rhino Poaching and Rhino Horn Trafficking


Although powdered rhino horn pound for pound is now worth more than cocaine or heroin, the prison terms for trafficking in it are a fraction of those for the equivalent weight of narcotics. The sentence for a first-time offender smuggling a kilo of heroin in the U.S. is a minimum of 10 years in prison; according to Grace, a first-time offender smuggling a kilo of horn would get off with less than a year, and more likely a fine. “It’s a high-profit, low-risk crime,” he says.

Rachel Nuwer wrote in Scientific American, “Legislation is in place to issue serious punishment to illegal wildlife traffickers. All of the Asian countries partaking in the trade, including China and Vietnam, are members of CITES, which emphasizes international cooperation and provides thorough guidelines for enforcing wildlife trade laws. Under Hong Kong’s Import and Export Ordinance, anyone found guilty of importing un-manifested cargos faces seven years imprisonment and fines up to US$257,000; anyone guilty of importing endangered species for commercial purposes faces two years imprisonment and US$642,000 in fines. In mainland China, the death penalty used to be issued for people caught importing large consignments of ivory, though those sentences were typically suspended for good behavior and capital punishment no longer applies to wildlife crimes. [Source: Rachel Nuwer, Scientific American, March 26, 2012 /=\]

“All too often, in Asia and Africa, criminals get away with their actions. “Penalties are generally weak and loopholes are exploited,” Tom Milliken, of TRAFFIC says. Judges in Africa allow foreign nationals out on bail—usually the equivalent of a measly fraction of a rhino horn or elephant tusks’ value—only to find the criminals skip the country. When guilty parties do make it to court, fines for wildlife crimes are readily paid, and again constitute a sum much less than the value of the wildlife products for which they are being prosecuted. /=\

“When asked how much these body parts cost, Milliken declines even to say what the market value of the wildlife goods might be because of the corrupting impact such information can have. Enforcement officers, upon finding out how much horns are worth, sometimes seize the horns and then immediately go into negotiations with the criminals. When Milliken first got involved in conservation over 30 years ago, an Indonesian diplomat asked him for wildlife good prices. “You usually think we’re all on the same side, but the next thing I realized, that person was directly involved in the trade,” he said, “It was a big wake-up call, let me tell you.” Milliken said the wildlife goods have never been as valuable as they are now, and “that’s as good as it gets from me.” /=\

“South Africa recently bolstered rhino poaching and horn possession to a priority one crime, putting it on par with human trafficking and murder. Across the country, 21 prosecutors are now dedicated exclusively to rhino crime. In June, a South African judge sentenced two Vietnamese nationals to 8 and 12 years imprisonment for rhino poaching. The judge commented, “I want my grandchildren to be able to see rhinos,” and warned that no leniency would be shown to anyone entering his court guilty of wildlife crimes. This case seems to be isolated, though, and local South Africans often get much leaner sentences. /=\

“Even with the increased legal support, conservationists worry that it won’t be enough. Corruption runs rampant, rangers are outnumbered, and multi-national cooperation is still largely lacking. “Despite improvements in the situation, we’re still struggling,” Milliken said. Inevitably, every large-scale seizure ends up without a successful arrest, prosecution, or conviction. Bennett suspects a vast global network of players is involved in this trade, probably with a few head honchos calling most of the shots. Though Anson Wong, a notorious Malaysian “kingpin” wildlife smuggler, was arrested about 17 months ago, he was released in February on good behavior. At some point, the legal system usually fails, Milliken says. “Right now, the traders are basically running circles around everyone,” Shepherd said. “They’re still winning the game.” /=\

Kaziranga National Park Shoot-to-Kill Anti-Poacher Policy

Kaziranga National Park in India, the home of the majority of Asia’s one horn rhinoceroses, has a problem with poachers. Many are after the rhinoceros horn. The park has a shoot to kill policy. One guard told Travel & Leisure magazine, “ We don’t catch the poachers’s alive. We shoot them, from a distance or up close. If we hand them over alive, they’ll pay 5,000 rupees [$110] to police and walk out, and come back. We all get excited by the hunt when we’re after the poachers.”

The guard then explained how they caught two poachers in a boat and few nights earlier: one was shot dead and one fell off the boat is presumed dead. When the guard was asked if he had any second thought about killing the poachers, he said, “No. It’s because of them that we don’t know day from night, working out here in the jungle 24 hours. They are our enemies.”

To adequately patrol Kaziranga Forest, more forest personnel were employed and they were given better guns and weapons to battle with the poachers. A senior officer at the park explain that when he arrived at the park in the late 1980s many rhinos were being killed. On one particularly bad night he counted five dead rhinos. After that he stepped up patrols and made other changes and 13 poachers were killed in a six month period. He said, “It’s better to kill than be killed, its better to be on the offensive than defensive.

There are 1,250 rhinos in the park, up form 1,100 in 1988. In 1986 poachers killed 41 rhinos. In 2000 only two were killed. Between 1990 and 2000. A total of 80 poachers were killed. Poachers aren’t the only danger the rhinos face. 1998, 39 were drowned when the Brahmaputra River overflowed its banks. The floods were exacerbated by erasion and deforestation in the area.

Jessica Frei of Save the Rhinos wrote in December 2013: “Recently, two poachers were killed by forest protection guards in an encounter at Kaziranga. Guards came face to face with a group of five poachers while they were patrolling the park. The group was moving under suspicious conditions near Malani camp under Bagori range. Out of five, two poachers were gunned down by the forest personnel on the spot while the rest three managed to run away. The guards have recovered one .303 rifle from the poachers. The state government of Assam has requested for an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation because of the rise in wildlife crime mainly the poaching of one-horned rhino found in Assam. N K Vasu, the director of the park, updated with the figure that 16 rhinos have been killed and a further 40 have died a natural death this year. [Source: Jessica Frei, Save the Rhinos, December 2013]

Nepal arrests 14 over rhino poaching

In October 2013, the BBC reported: “At least fourteen alleged members of a gang of rhinoceros poachers have been arrested in Nepal, officials say. Those arrested include Buddhi Bahadur Praja, the alleged leader of a cross-border smuggling ring. Police accuse Mr Praja of killing more than 12 rhinos in Nepal in the past six years. There has been no immediate comment from any of those arrested. [Source: BBC, October 7, 2013]

"It was a joint operation by the Nepalese army and the special police," Kamal Jung Kunwar, a senior official at Nepal's Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, told the BBC. "Fourteen people have been arrested in this operation in the past three weeks. We have seized two guns and four bullets from the gang." Mr Kunwar said it was the biggest arrest of poachers in a single operation in recent years. "It was one of our informers who provided us vital clues about the location of these poachers," he added.

"This year so far only one rhino has been killed by poachers in Chitwan Park," Mr Kunwar said. Officials say there are more than 1,000 Nepalese soldiers in the Chitwan national park involved in anti-poaching activities. They operate from more than 40 positions, some deep inside the forest.

Serengeti Rhino Poachers Killed in Police Custody

In January 2011, The Citizen Correspondent reported: “Police in Serengeti District, Mara Region, have reportedly killed a man suspected to have been among the poachers who killed a rhino in the Serengeti National Park. The Bonchugu Village chairman, Mr Makena Mwikwabe, identified the man as Chacha Marara who was arrested together with three other relatives. He said the four suspects were arrested at their home in connection with the killing of one of the rhinos that were flown into the country from South Africa.

The village chairman said the suspects were taken to Mugumu Central Police Station where they were reportedly tortured. “It is believed that Marara was seriously beaten by the police, a beating which caused his death,” he said, adding that the police claimed that the man died after he jumped off a vehicle that was ferrying him to the central police station. Mr Mwikwabe said the relatives of the deceased, who he identified as Baru Marara, Mwita Marara and Mwita Philemon who were also under police custody, had told him that they were all beaten by the police but Mr Marara bore most of the torture.

The rhino that was found dead in December, last year, with the horns missing was one of the five Eastern Black Rhinos brought into the country from South Africa mid last year. The five rhinos were received with much fanfare and a huge PR campaign involving President Jakaya Kikwete, who travelled to the Senapa to witness the offloading of the five rare rhinos from the aircraft upon arrival from South Africa.

The minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Mr Ezekiel Maige, said that protection of the endangered rhinos against poachers in the Senapa would now be reinforced by aerial patrols. More armed rangers have also been deployed into the vast park since the rhino’s killing. Mr Maige said the government was deeply concerned by increasing cases of poaching in the Serengeti National Park. He said an operation to track down the rhino killers was underway and that already 10 suspects have so far been arrested. [Source: The Citizen Correspondentm January 4, 2011]

Rhino Poacher Shot Dead in South Africa

March 2012, ISSU reported: “A 79-year-old suspected rhino poacher was shot dead at the Bubi Conservancy outside Beit Bridge during a shoot-out with game rangers, police have said. Local police spokesperson C/Supt Lawrence Chinhengo said the incident occurred at Taula Safari Ranch in the Bubi Conservancy, east of the border town.”The man, who was armed with an AK47 rifle and in the company of a man who is still at large, had strayed onto the Bubi conservancy when they came into close contact with game rangers who were on an anti-poaching operation in the area, resulting in an exchange of fire,” he said. [Source: ISSUU, March 16, 2012]

The victim, identified as Motakela Mukosiku, was shot in the left collarbone and died instantly. The other suspected poacher took the rifle and managed to flee from the scene. Chinhengo said the game rangers later tried to trace the escaped suspected poacher, but failed to locate him. They then reported the matter to the police and the body was taken to the Beit Bridge District Hospital mortuary. Chinhengo said they had recovered a satchel, which contained 38 rounds of live ammunition, a torch, an axe, a kitchen knife, gloves, a pair of pliers, the dead man’s mobile phone, his national identify card and a bottle of gun oil.

Three spent cartridges were also found at the scene. Chinhengo said there were no casualties among the rangers. He said they had since launched a manhunt for the other suspect on the run. “As police we continue to warn poachers against straying into protected safari areas as they risk being killed and we believe this incident will also send a serious warning to would-be poachers,” he said. Of late, there has been an increase in the number of poaching activities in the country, with rhinos being mostly targeted. Last week, two armed poachers were shot dead and a third injured in a shoot-out with game rangers in the Mkanga Safari Area outside Beit Bridge.

In May 2012, News 24 reported: “As the total number of rhino poached in the Kruger National Park reaches 130, it’s nice to read news like this. SANParks has reported that two suspects have been arrested, and one killed, in a shoot out in the Crocodile Bridge section of Kruger. The three men were found after SANParks rangers, police and members of the military investigated the killing of a rhino cow and her calf early yesterday. A shootout ensued, where one man was fatally wounded. The men were in the possession of four fresh rhino horns, a hunting rifle and an axe. Unfortunately, the rhino cow and her calf could not be saved. The two men arrested. [Source: Simon Gerber News24, May 11 2012]

Restriction on the Sale of Rhino Horn Art in Europe

Rhino horns are excellent for carving and were crafted into delicate cups, plates and bowls carved from rhinoceros horn by master Chinese craftsmen during the Ming (1368-1644) and Ching (1644-1912) dynasties. Some of these works are among the marque pieces at Chinese art museum in Taiwan and China. Others were bought from collectors and businessmen. made their way to the storerooms of Chinese drug factories, where they were later to be pulverized into medicine. The current record for a rhino horn works of art is the so-called Hoqua gift rhino horn lotus bowl, a carved masterpiece of the 15th century, sold for a premium-inclusive $15 million at Sotheby's Hong Kong in October 2010. [National Geographic Earth Almanac, April 1991].

In March 2011 a new “emergency guidance” banning the export of worked rhinoceros horn was announced that expands restriction on the export of rhino horn from countries within the European Union to all items, whether or not they have been 'worked'. In practice this means that, while it is still legal to sell rhino horn works of art in the UK, they will no longer be granted licences to be sent overseas to the increasingly affluent nations where such things are most highly prized. [Source: Roland Arkell, Antiques Trade Gazette, March 26, 2012]

In its latest and strongest measures designed to stem the black market trade in powdered rhino horn, the European Commission now advises that: "No export or re-export permits are delivered for worked items of rhino horn, except in cases where it is amply clear that the permit will be used for legitimate purposes, such as cases where: the item is part of a genuine exchange of cultural or artistic goods between reputable institutions (i.e. museums); the item has not been sold and is an heirloom moving as part of a family relocation or as part of a bequest; or the item is part of a bona fide research project."

Roland Arkell wrote in the Antiques Trade Gazette, “The UK's Wildlife Licensing and Registration Service (WLRS) say that, regardless of merit, they will now refuse any application to export rhino horn objects to mainland China.The new measures reverse previous WLRS policy, which provided an exemption for antique works of art made of rhino horn, where the artistic value was far greater than the intrinsic value of the horn when sold into the illegal medicine trade in China. [Ibid]

While previous restrictions surrounding the export of rhino horn have been discussed with trade bodies such as the British Art Market Federation prior to implementation, this measure was deliberately issued without consultation or warning to avoid the need for any 'grace period'. [Ibid]

Environment minister Richard Benyon used highly emotive language in an official statement when he said: "These magnificent animals are on the brink of extinction, suffering horrific deaths at the hands of greedy poachers. We've been pushing for firmer restrictions to put an end to this cruel trade in the UK, and so I am really pleased to see this important step being taken." He described the measures as a victory for the ongoing pressure from the UK for tougher controls to tackle the illegal trade in rhino horn but appeared to confuse the issue with elephant ivory when he added: "Evidence suggests that criminal groups are targeting rhino horns in all their forms, including 'artistic items', such as carved ivory, and re-selling it on the black market."

Rhino Horn Crafts Continue to Be Sold After Restrictions

Roland Arkell wrote in the Antiques Trade Gazette, “The new “emergency guidance” banning the export of worked rhinoceros horn appeared to have a limited effect at the first sale since it was introduced. On March 21, Gorringes of Lewes offered a fine 17th or 18th century example with archaistic decoration, a 'Shang Ming' seal mark and a deep caramel colour. Prior to the sale the auctioneers announced they were unable to accept live internet bids on this lot or any bids, written or on the telephone, from mainland China. As has become common practice for premium Chinese works of art, the auctioneer asked that potential bidders register specifically for this lot and pay a deposit by bank transfer. [Source: Roland Arkell, Antiques Trade Gazette, March 26, 2012

The assembled Chinese and Hong Kong agents in the room watched while a UK-based private buyer outpaced a London dealer at £74,000 (estimate £40,000-60,000). It was not the six-figure sum the vessel might have commanded prior to the legislation but nor did this 'test case' suggest the EU measures (effective until at least the end of the year) will easily extinguish the vibrant European auction market for rhinoceros horn works of arts. There are fears that the tighter measures may drive the wider market underground. [Ibid]

Bidding was more equivocal at Tennants of Leyburn on March 22 when another 17th century example with some damage sold below hopes at £33,000 (estimate £35,000-45,000) and a 19th century rhino horn carving estimated at a very punchy £65,000-75,000 failed to sell.

In London the three major auction houses chose to respond toATG's questions regarding the consignment and sale of rhino horn material for the May Asian series, with official statements unequivocally condemning all poaching and promises to scrupulously observe all local and international laws regulating the sale of endangered species. [Ibid]

Combating Demand for Rhino Horn in Southeast Asia

Karl Ammann wrote in Natural History magazine, “During a recent tiger conservation meeting in Bangkok, sponsored by the World Bank and with Interpol, CITES, and the World Customs Organization in attendance, I asked the chair why the Laotian delegate could not be confronted with some of the evidence of illegal wildlife trade in his country (including the open display of ivory in many stores). The answer was: “Some of these officials attending here are as frustrated as you and I are.” The question I did not ask but should have is: Why do we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on such meetings in five-star hotels if the attendees are not decision makers and have no way to help create the political will to mount some real enforcement campaigns? [Source: Karl Ammann, Natural History magazine, September/ October 2012 ***]

“With Western diplomats and conservationists based in Vietnam, I discussed possible approaches to reducing demand. Exhortations about conservation do not seem to do the trick. One strategy is to attack the validity and effectiveness of the Traditional Chinese Medicine industry and its products. The feeling was and is, however, that the viewpoint of the West on such issues would not prove persuasive and might be counterproductive. ***

What about a campaign on local TV stations publicizing the techniques used by dealers to present “rhino horn” as real when in fact most of it is just pieces of water buffalo horn or some other imitation? The embarrassment at being deceived in the past and the desire to avoid falling for a scam might be a much more powerful and effective deterrent than another study questioning the medicinal properties and value of rhino horn. On the other hand, it might lead to a crackdown by authorities on the trading in fakes. That could be a good clue that they themselves are consumers of rhino horn.

In December 2012, Vietnam and South Africa signed an agreement aimed at bolstering law enforcement and tackling illegal wildlife trade including rhino horn trafficking. The agreement paves the way for improved intelligence information sharing and joint efforts by the two nations to crack down on the criminal syndicates behind the smuggling networks. [Source: WWF]

Combating the Rhino Horn Trade in Vietnam

Mike Ives wrote in Associated Press “Between 2006 and 2008, three diplomats at the Vietnamese Embassy in Pretoria were linked to embarrassing rhino trafficking scandals - including one caught on tape. In February, US agents busted an alleged interstate rhino horn trafficking syndicate with Vietnamese-American ringleaders. According to a court affidavit obtained by The Associated Press, Felix Kha, one of the alleged traffickers arrested in the recent US bust, allegedly travelled to China 12 times between 2004 and 2011 and to Vietnam five times last year. [Source: Mike Ives, Associated Press , April 4, 2012 */*]

“Laws in Vietnam surrounding the business of importing horns are murky and crackdowns are rare despite government pledges to root out traffickers. Officially, no more than 60 horns are legally imported into Vietnam as trophies bagged from South African game farms each year, but international wildlife experts have estimated the actual number of trophy horns taken by Vietnamese nationals from South Africa each year may exceed 100. */*

“Earlier this week, the South African government said it was working with the Vietnamese to stop the potential abuse of hunting permits. Hanoi has also been asked to conduct inspections to make sure rhino trophies imported from South Africa still remain in the hunters' possession. It's impossible to track how other rhino horns are entering Vietnam, wildlife advocates say, but they point to local media reports suggesting Vietnamese diplomats are implicated in the international trade that's been largely banned since 1976. */*

“In 2006, a diplomat at Vietnam's South African Embassy was arrested for trafficking rhino horn, while another was filmed two years later trading the substance outside the mission's gates. A third diplomat was also questioned that same year after 18kg of rhino horn was found in his car outside a casino. In a statement, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Luong Thanh Nghi said those incidents reflected badly upon Vietnam's image, and that the diplomats all faced disciplinary measures.” */*

Homegrown Efforts to Combat the Rhino Horn Trade in Vietnam

"There is a small group who have the money for rhino horn. We need to get out scientific evidence to show the people of Vietnam that it doesn't work," Vo Tuan Nhan, vice chairman of the Vietnamese parliament's science and environment committee said.

On the efforts of the Vietnamese group Education for Nature Vietnam (ENV), a representative with savetherhino.org wrote: “II met with Ms Dung who is the operations director at ENV and is in charge of the awareness programme in illegal wildlife trade...and then I was introduced to the rest of their 35 strong team. The team do an absolutely fantastic job and came across as very professional, knowledgeable and welcoming to me...Their work includes raising awareness about wildlife crimes to the Vietnamese general public, they manage a wildlife crime hotline, they carry out investigations into wildlife crimes and work with authorities and manage and deliver campaigns in Vietnam. They have a fantastic volunteers programme that includes around 3,800 volunteers all over Vietnam, their volunteers get involved in reporting wildlife crime and awareness raising campaigns. [Source: savetherhino.org, August 2013 <*>]

“ENV have done very successful campaigns in the past on reducing the demand for bear bile in Vietnam. Bear bile is an illegal activity but unfortunately there has been very little law enforcement and so the practise has continued but through the work of ENV this practise has been vastly reduced in Vietnam. ENV have been working on reducing the demand for rhino horn since 2012. I then travelled with Tran Tuyet Minh, who is a Wildlife Trade Programme Manager at ENV, via her moped to Hai Thuong Lan Ong Street which is one of the main streets in Hanoi for TCM shops. Each shop seems to sell the exact same thing as the one next door. <*>

“With Ms Minh’s help I was able to go into many of the shops and take photos and ask questions of the shop owners. Rhino horn was not openly being sold in any of these shops (there was however signs for bear bile which is illegal). ENV had previously visited all of these shops and asked if they would place signs saying rhino horn is illegal. About one quarter agreed, however most of the signs were tucked away at the back of the shop.” <*>

The owners of the shops “explained that TCM customers mostly want treatment for their general good health a bit like taking vitamin tablets. People don’t generally come in and ask for a specific product, they tell the practitioner what their problem is and they will diagnose what they need. It takes many year to train to become a TCM doctor and they are well respected. Customers tend to choose which TCM shop to go into through a recommendation or they already trust and know the shop, trust is important to their trade. Some of the practitioners have been asked by customers for rhino horn but all denied ever selling it”. <*>

Later “I attended a workshop organised by Naomi Doak (Traffic Vietnam) and facilitated by PSI who are a global change behaviour agency who specialise in changing people’s behaviour in relation to health issues.The workshop was also attended by members of the Vietnamese government and WWF. The workshop analysed the two consumer surveys that had been commissioned by WWF and Traffic in Vietnam in 2013. The aim of these surveys was then help to plan a targeted behaviour change campaign to reduce the demand for rhino horn. The workshop identified three key rhino horn user groups and the steps to running a campaign to change the key user groups behaviour. It also looked at who would be the best type of ambassador for the campaign. Many of the participants in the workshop were Vietnamese nationals who were fighting to stop the illegal wildlife trade. They explained that when growing up as children you were not taught much about wildlife and why it is important to protect it. Therefore, it isn't something that people consider. Their focus is generally on doing the best for their families. <*>

It was very exciting to able to be involved at this stage in such a great project but there is still a long way to go to make this campaign happen including raising funds for the project. SRI are starting to fundraise for the campaign as we believe it is one of the best ways to tackle rhino poaching occurring throughout Africa and Asia and you can be involved by helping support this project. See more about the work being done on demand reduction here.” Vietnam “is a country that seems to have somehow lost its relationship with wildlife and I can't help but worry that as more and more people are able to afford rhino horn this will have a negative impact on our rhinos and other wildlife. The demand for wildlife products only seems to be increasing. However, there are positive signs. The young people of Vietnam do seem to be changing and do want to protect wildlife but many species don't have enough time to wait for several generations before a culture fully changes. The work that ENV, Traffic Vietnam, the Vietnamese government and other organisations around the world, including SRI, do in Vietnam in the next couple of years is going to play a major role in the survival of so many species including our rhinos!” <*>

Yao Ming Says Takes Aim Rhino Horn Demand in China

In April 2013, the Wall Street Journal reported: “Former NBA star and Chinese icon, Yao Ming, launched a major public awareness campaign targeting consumption of ivory and rhino horn in China in partnership with WildAid, Save the Elephants, African Wildlife Foundation, and the Yao Ming Foundation. [Source: The Wall Street Journal, April 16, 2013]

In August 2012, Yao spent 12 days on a fact-finding mission in Kenya and South Africa filming a documentary to be aired in partnership with NHNZ later this year. Yao met wild elephants before encountering the bodies of five poached elephants in Kenya and a poached rhino in South Africa. He also visited local school children, whose education is funded through wildlife tourism revenue, and conservationists and government officials working to protect elephants and rhinos. Footage and stills from his trip were released together with a series of public service announcements informing consumers, "When the buying stops, the killing can too." WildAid thanks Ol Pejeta Conservancy and Virgin Atlantic for their support of Yao's Africa trip.

The attitudinal ivory and rhino horn surveys highlight the importance of Yao's involvement in this campaign and the urgent need for him to continue to positively influence his fellow countrymen. Similar public awareness campaigns are planned for Vietnam.

Yao stated, "Poaching threatens livelihoods, education, and development in parts of Africa due to the insecurity it brings and loss of tourism revenue. No one who sees the results firsthand, as I did, would buy ivory or rhino horn. I believe when people in China know what's happening they will do the right thing and say no to these products."

WildAid is the only organization to focus on reducing the demand for wildlife products with the strong and simple message: when the buying stops, the killing can too. WildAid works with Asian and Western celebrities and business leaders to dissuade people from purchasing wildlife products via public service announcements and educational initiatives, reaching up to one billion people per week in China alone. For more information: www.wildaid.org.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, Natural History magazine, Smithsonian magazine, Wikipedia, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, Top Secret Animal Attack Files website, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, The Economist, BBC, and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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