TRAFFIC’s engagement on African rhinoceros conservation and the global trade in rhinoceros horn
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African rhinoceros populations
The White Rhinoceros Ceratotherium simum, a grazer, and the Black Rhinoceros Diceros bicornis, a browser, are found in Africa.
There are approximately 20,000 White Rhinoceroses in Africa, all descended from fewer than 100 individuals in South Africa in 1900. The White Rhinoceros is classified by IUCN as Near Threatened. The last remaining wild population of the northern subspecies, from Garamba National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo, is considered probably extinct. Only four captive individuals remain.
Only around 5,000 Black Rhinoceroses survive and the species is classified by IUCN as Critically Endangered. There are three surviving subspecies: Eastern Black Diceros b. michaeli, South-central Black D. b. minor and South-western Black D. b. bicornis. The Western Black subspecies D. b. longipes was confirmed extinct in November 2011.
Historically rhinoceroses numbered in the hundreds of thousands in Africa, but the White Rhinoceros was on the brink of extinction by the end of the 19th century. Although populations of both species steadily increased from the mid-1990s (when there were only 7,560 White and 2,400 Black Rhinoceroses continent-wide), this conservation success story is being undone by the high levels of rhino poaching since the mid-2000s. The majority (98%) of African rhinoceroses occur in four countries; Kenya, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Rhinoceros horn use
Rhinoceros horns and other products, such as blood, skin and urine, have long been important constituents in traditional Chinese medicines used to reduce fevers, headaches and other illnesses. Records of rhinoceros horn use as a medicine in China date back to the period 200 B.C.–200 A.D. Chinese dynasties have a history of ornamental use of rhinoceros horn also.
Contrary to popular myth, rhinoceros horn has never been used in traditional medicine as an aphrodisiac.
From the 1970s to the mid-1990s rhinoceros horn was in high demand in the Middle East, especially Yemen, for the production of dagger handles or jambiyas (summary, 192 KB scanned PDF full report, 5 MB).
A recent upsurge in rhinoceros poaching (see below) is closely linked to increased demand for rhinoceros horn in Asia, particularly Viet Nam, where it carries prestige as a luxury item, as a post-partying cleanser, and as a purported cancer cure.
Poaching threats in Africa
South Africa holds by far the largest number of rhinoceroses, so is the most heavily targeted country by poachers. Zimbabwe has also been subjected to high levels of poaching.
From 1990 to 2007, South Africa lost an average of 13 rhinoceroses to poaching each year. Since 2008, the number of rhinoceroses poached has risen rapidly (see graphic above).
Kruger National Park, the largest park in in South Africa, which has an open border with neighbouring Mozambique, is heavily impacted by rhino poaching. Authorities have arrested hundreds of poachers within the Park. For example, in February 2009, a poaching syndicate comprising three Chinese and eight South Africans and Mozambicans were charged with smuggling about 50 rhinoceros horns out of Kruger National Park. In 2011, 252 of the 448 rhinoceroses poached in South Africa were in Kruger, while in 2014, 672 of 1,215 rhinos were poached there.
The rise in involvement of organised crime syndicates in rhinoceros poaching and illegal horn trade in South Africa can be traced back at least as far as the arrest of two brothers in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve in July 2007.
In June 2009, South Africa placed a national moratorium on rhinoceros horn trade and authorities there have shown an increased judicial response, with heavy prison sentences imposed on those convicted of rhinoceros poaching.
Elsewhere in Africa
Zimbabwe: A breakdown in law enforcement against rhinoceros poaching and horn smuggling threatened to undo more than a decade’s work restoring rhinoceros populations in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean authorities are taking such crimes more seriously, however, with a poacher gaoled for 17 years in 2010 and there has been a significant decline in the number of rhinos poached in Zimbabwe between 2010 (52 animals) and 2013 (16 animals).
Zambia: In March 2009 Zambi Wildlife Authority arrested four people, including two police officers, over their involvement in the smuggling of 72 elephant ivory and five rhinoceros horn pieces, while four Zambian nationals were arrested by Zimbabwe on suspicion of rhino poaching.
Namibia: Although in 2009 two men appeared in court charged with attempting to sell rhinoceros horns, Namibia largely escaped the rhino poaching crisis until 2014, when levels began to rise, with media reporting a loss of 24 rhinos that year, rising sharply to 60 by mid-May 2015.
Kenya: Kenya has the third largest population of both Black and White Rhinos, totalling just over 1,000 animals. Although the poaching wave was slow to reach East Africa, heavy investment in on-the-ground patrolling in game reserves has undoubtedly helped deter poachers in Kenya. Despite these efforts, a total of 35 rhinos were poached in Kenya in 2014.
Democratic Republic of Congo: Rhinoceroses are believed extinct: the most recent sighting of a live wild Northern White Rhinoceros was in 2006; just 4 individuals remain, all in captivity.
Mozambique: Rhinos no longer occur in Mozambique owing to poaching pressure, but the shared common border with neighbouring Kruger National Park in South Africa, coupled with weak legislation and poor enforcement makes the country a favoured base for poaching gangs to enter South Africa to kill rhinos. Mozambique is also a major exit point for rhino horn leaving the African continent en route to Asia. The Standing Committee of CITES requested Mozambique to develop and implement a detailed national rhino action plan. Despite these measures, rhino poaching and horn trafficking remain serious problems, as exemplified by a seizure of 65 rhino horns and 1.1 tonnes of elephant ivory in May 2015, following a police raid in Maputo. Subsequently, 12 rhino horns from this seizure were stolen from a police storeroom and at least 7 individuals, four of them police officers, arrested in connection with the theft. However, in July 2015 the Mozambican authorities destroyed the confiscated ivory and rhino horn before any cases in connection with the events had come to court.
Rhinoceros horn demand
There is a huge global demand for rhinoceros horn, mainly for use as a status symbol by wealthy businessmen in Asia, particularly Viet Nam (see below), meaning that all sources are at risk. International crime syndicates are targeting museums and other sites where rhinoceros horn is stored, for example:
- in June 2009, five armed men held up security guards in Addo Elephant National Park and made off with 10 kg of rhinoceros horns;
- an auctioneer in the UK who stole a client's rhinoceros horn and sold it to dealers in the Far East was given a suspended prison sentenced and fined in December 2009;
- in January 2010, Customs officials at Shannon Airport in Ireland seized 10 rhinoceros horns.
- in February 2012, a trio was suspected of stealing a rhinoceros horn in Vienna, Austria, and was also wanted in connection with the murder of a possible witness to their crime;
- in May 2014 the leader of an international crime ring trading in rhinoceros horn was jailed in the US for almost six years after pleading guilty to charges of smuggling;
- in December 2014, 13 men were charged with plotting to steal rhinoceros horns amongst other items from auction houses and museums across Europe.
From September 2010, the UK Government announced a ban on the export of rhinoceros horn after evidence of antique rhinoceros horn and horn products being legally imported from across Europe for re-sale in the UK then exported, often to East Asia.
Demand from Asia
Rhinoceros horn traffickers have been arrested in Viet Nam and China, including Hong Kong, and there have also been arrests of traffickers with links to Myanmar, Malaysia and Taiwan. Rhinoceros horns have been seized from shipments to mainland China including Hong Kong , and Thailand.
The recent upsurge in rhinoceros poaching is closely linked to increased demand for rhinoceros horn in Asia, especially Viet Nam, and through TRAFFIC’s work as far back as June 2007, Vietnamese citizens have been linked to the illegal trade of rhinoceros horn from South Africa. Related incidents include the following:
- in June 2008, five White Rhinoceros horns weighing nearly 18 kgs were seized from a Vietnamese man at Tan Son Nhat Airport;
- another man, believed to be Vietnamese, was arrested in Pretoria in South Africa in April 2009 after rhinoceros body parts were found at his home
- in August 2011, a Vietnamese man found guilty of illegally possessing 12 rhinoceros horns received a 12-year prison sentence;
- Vietnamese citizens have been involved in “pseudo-hunts”, whereby legal sport hunts of White Rhinoceroses are used to obtain horn for commercial use in Viet Nam;
- two Vietnamese nationals were arrested at Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport in December 2011 attempting to smuggle two rhinoceros horns.
- in January 2013 Vietnamese citizens were detained in Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City trying to smuggle rhino horn into Vietnam
- in May 2015, after being arrested in Viet Nam with 31 rhino horns weighing 37kg, two men were prosecuted for violating animal protection regulations
- in June 2015, three men were convicted of illegally exporting rhinoceros horns from the Czech Republic to Viet Nam, and a further charge was brought against a Czech-Vietnamese group for the export of rhino horns.
Where does the demand originate?
In 2013, a ground-breaking study was commissioned by TRAFFIC to identify the consumers of rhino products, and how these consumers are driving the rapid increase in poaching that is being observed across Africa and parts of Asia. There is a strong link between the demand for rhino horn and the growth of a wealthier, urban middle class, particularly within Viet Nam, where such a commodity is regarded as a status symbol and is often given as a gift to colleagues or those in a position of authority. In addition, there is an underlying belief that rhino horn can be used effectively for medicinal purposes to cure a variety of ailments, including cancer, thus enhancing the popularity of the commodity further. As countries attain higher levels of economic development, it is likely that the demand for rhino horn may in fact increase.
Changing consumer behaviour
In September 2014, TRAFFIC, together with Save the Rhino International embarked upon an innovative campaign in Viet Nam to persuade consumers of rhino horn to reject its use and ultimately bring about a long-term reduction in demand for rhino horn usage. The Chi campaign was launched in September 2014 and is built upon established demand reduction principles. It focuses on the established Vietnamese concept that a person's inner strength or ‘Chi’ comes from within and cannot be gained from an external source, such as utilising rhino horn. The campaign draws upon the significance of Chi within Vietnamese society in order to alter consumer behaviour. The campaign is targeted at the business community. Futher information on demand reduction and the Chi campaign.
TRAFFIC’s other work to conserve rhinoceroses
TRAFFIC has been at the forefront of international efforts to address the rhino poaching crisis. TRAFFIC first identified the problem, after we documented the increased volume of rhinoceros horn entering illegal trade from 2000 onwards.
Policy and practical solutions
- TRAFFIC raised the alarm about the upsurge in rhinoceros poaching, particularly in Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo, in June 2007 and raised the issue at the 14th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora);
- in response, CITES established a Rhinoceros Enforcement Task Force in August 2008, consisting of 20 top law enforcement officers representing wildlife authorities, Customs, investigations, national parks, the police and enforcement agencies in twelve countries;
- in July 2009, TRAFFIC, IUCN and WWF highlighted major concerns to CITES about the substantial increase in rhinoceros poaching in southern Africa and also relating to sport-hunting of White Rhinoceroses in South Africa;
- in November 2009, TRAFFIC and IUCN documented the decline in law enforcement effectiveness and dramatic increase in poaching intensity in Southern Africa in acomprehensive report to CITES CoP15. The report led countries with rhinoceros populations to agree actions aimed at reducing illegal killing and horn trade.
- iin 2010, TRAFFIC facilitated a meeting between South Africa and Viet Nam, to increase collaborative law enforcement. In September 2011, a return visit to South Africa by Vietnamese officials took place, leading to a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding to collaborate actively to stop the illegal trade in rhinoceros horn.
- in August 2012, TRAFFIC launched the South Africa – Viet Nam rhino horn trade Nexus a major report into rhino poaching and trafficking between South Africa and Viet Nam, detailing the situation that led up to the poaching crisis and profiling the user groups creating the demand for horn in Asia.
- in July 2013, TRAFFIC and the Mozambican National Directorate of Land and Forestry hosted a workshop to address issues with current wildlife policy, facilitate dialogue between key stakeholders and encourage a commitment to tackling wildlife crime. Materials in Portuguese were distributed to law enforcement officers to identify illegal wildlife products.
- in April-May 2013, TRAFFIC in partnership with WWF, developed a series of advertisements including a Public Service Announcement broadcast in Viet Nam highlighting that rhino horn is composed of keratin, the same substance as fingernails.
- TRAFFIC has engaged with the Traditional Medicine Association, Ministry of Health in Viet Nam, leading to the signing of a memorandums of understanding to work towards reducing the demand for rhino horn.
- TRAFFIC has collaborated with the Vietnam Business Forum (VCCI), leading to the signing of a strategic Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) supporting the roll out of best practices in corporate ethics and consumer behaviour change, as well as a zero tolerance approach toward illegal wildlife product consumption.
- TRAFFIC and WWF have facilitated the use of wildlife detector dogs at a number of airports, seaports and postal distribution centres and also in Kaziranga National Park to detect wildlife products including rhinoceros horn.
- TRAFFIC has helped train enforcement officers in several countries in identification and detection of illegal wildlife products, including rhinoceros horn.
TRAFFIC has been involved in a number of high-profile publications to raise awareness of the poaching surge:
- in June 2011, a major article in TIME Magazine featured TRAFFIC’s work on the crisis, and also uncovered plans to import and farm live rhinoceroses for their horns in China.
- TRAFFIC’s Tom Milliken was interviewed as part of a hard-hitting documentary hosted by Dan Rather revealing the extent of the rhinoceros horn trade to Viet Nam and rhinoceros horns openly on sale in Ha Noi were filmed.
- Last Stand: Trafficking rhinoceros horn, an NBC documentary broadcast in February 2012 also featured extensive interviews with TRAFFIC’s Tom Milliken about the crisis.
- Launches of TRAFFIC’s reports into the poaching crisis have received high profile coverage, including: the Wildlife-TRAPS report, the Deadly Nexus and the results of rhino horn consumer research.
More about TRAFFIC's work on rhinoceros conservation is available from reports in the Publications section of the TRAFFIC website, under PERISSODACTYLA
The Mackenzie Foundation and WWF South Africa are thanked for supporting TRAFFIC’s work on rhinos.
The Mazda Wildlife Fund are thanked for their ongoing support of TRAFFIC in South Africa.
Rhino Wines SA are thanked for their support of TRAFFIC's conservation work in southern Africa.
The Rufford Foundation is thanked for supporting TRAFFIC’s communications work.