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Wildlife Trade Specialists

Published 6th June 2007

Alarming upsurge in rhino poaching

The Hague, The Netherlands, 6 June 2007—An increase in the volume of rhino horn entering illegal trade from Africa since 2000 could be placing some rhino populations at serious risk, according to new research from TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.


Rhino horns are highly valuable and traded internationally, mainly for use in traditional medicines (c) WWF-Canon / Martin Harvey

Poaching is most severe in Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where 60% of the rhino population was illegally killed between 2003 and 2005. 

In Zimbabwe, poaching accounted for two-thirds of all rhino mortalities over the same period, affecting one in eight animals, and some key populations are in decline. 

Both DRC and Zimbabwe have the poorest record for seizing rhino horns in the illegal trade, with just 13% and 8% of lost horns recovered in DRC and Zimbabwe, respectively, between 2000 and 2005. Across Africa as a whole, law enforcement agencies recovered 42% of horns entering illegal trade.

Rhino horns are shipped to illegal markets, mainly in Asia and the Middle East, where they are used as traditional medicines and to make traditional dagger handles. East and Southeast Asia and Yemen are important destinations, and trade appears to be on the increase since 2000.

According to TRAFFIC, this matches a switch to commercial rhino poaching which targets horn in Kenya, Zimbabwe and DRC. 

“The situation in DRC and Zimbabwe is a particular concern,” said Steven Broad, Executive Director of TRAFFIC. “It tallies with an increase in the organization of criminal horn trading networks operating in Africa.”

The Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has called for better cross-border collaboration between countries along smuggling routes. Secure management of horn stocks has also proved important to prevent horns leaking to the illegal market. 

As a result of such measures, some African countries, such as Swaziland and Namibia, have achieved considerable success in combating poaching and the associated illegal trade. And despite poaching and illegal trade, rhino populations overall in Africa are increasing. 

“This population increase is of course very encouraging,” said Dr Sue Lieberman, Director of WWF’s Global Species Programme. “But better law enforcement and protection measures are still needed for African rhinos, particularly in the DRC and Zimbabwe.”

The CITES meeting is being held in The Hague, The Netherlands, until 15 June.