Published 26 September 2011

South African and Vietnamese officials meet to discuss rhino poaching crisis

Johannesburg, South Africa, 26th September 2011 - Five government officials from Viet Nam are on an official visit to South Africa this week to discuss the illegal trade in rhinoceros horn.

Their visit is set against a backdrop of rapidly escalating poaching of Africa’s two internationally protected rhino species.

From 1990 to 2007, South Africa lost an average of 13 rhinos to poaching each year, but in 2008, the number shot up to 72 animals killed for their horns.  The figure rose to 122 in 2009, and again in 2010 to an unprecedented 333 dead. 

This year more than 302 animals have already been illegally killed, a rate that may push the total number to over 400 rhinos in 2011 if the poaching onslaught is not halted.

The rhino horn is smuggled to Asia, where there is strong evidence that Viet Nam is one of the key destinations and a primary driver of the illicit trade.

Last month, two Vietnamese citizens were sentenced to eight and 12 years in prison, respectively, by a South African magistrate for attempting to smuggle rhino horn out of the country.

In addition to poaching of live animals in Africa, the demand from Asia has led to a spate of thefts of antique rhino horn from museums and zoos across Europe by organized criminal gangs.

Rhino horn is used in traditional Asian medicine in the treatment of high fever, but a new belief has emerged claiming rhino horn has curative powers against cancer—a notion that may have developed in Viet Nam.  However, there is no scientific or medical evidence to support any such claims.  Rhino horn is similar in composition and structure to horses’ hooves, birds’ beaks, and human fingernails.

This week’s visit of Vietnamese government officials to South Africa follows the October 2010 mission of a five-member South African delegation to Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City to discuss rhino horn trafficking between the two countries.

At the meeting in South Africa, representatives are aiming to agree on and sign a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to create a mechanism under which Viet Nam and South Africa can actively collaborate to stop the illegal trade in rhino horn

 “In order to combat the illegal trade in wildlife products effectively, law enforcement must address the entire black market trade chain, from source country to end users,” said Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC global elephant and rhino programme coordinator.

“Formal institutional links between South African and Vietnamese law enforcement agencies should create effective channels of communication and improve law enforcement in both countries.  It is important to note, however, that a meeting like this is only a first step.  The real challenge is for participants to demonstrate their commitment in the follow-through once they return to their respective posts.”  

The Vietnamese visit is being hosted by the South African Department of Environmental Affairs, with support from TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network. Funding was made possible through the support of WWF-Germany and WWF African Rhino Programme. Last year TRAFFIC facilitated the South African mission to Viet Nam.