Vietnam driving South African poaching crisis

Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network has just released a new report detailing the South Africa – Vietnam rhino trafficking situation.

Last year 448 rhinos were poached in South Africa alone. With a further 281 rhinos killed in in the country by mid July this year, the report warns that if poaching levels continue at this rate, 515 rhinos could be lost to poaching by the end of 2012.

White rhino, South AfricaThe report identifies a number of factors which have contributed to the rhino poaching crisis in South Africa in recent years, including poor compliance over stockpile management, loopholes in sport hunting policy and increased demand for rhino horn in Vietnam. These have all created conditions for the involvement of ruthless criminal networks in rhino poaching.

The report has highlighted Vietnam as the worst offender driving the illegal demand for rhino horn. Demand from Vietnam has surged in recent years with claims that rhino horn can supposedly cure cancer in terminally ill patients, a rumor which is completely untrue. Other users have been identified who believe that rhino horn has ‘detoxification properties’ following the excessive consumption of alcohol or rich food. Affluent users grind up rhino horn and mix the powder with water as a ‘hangover-cure’.

Vietnamese nationals have been heavily implicated in obtaining trophy hunting permits for white rhino in South Africa, and using the ‘psuedo-hunts’ as a means of exporting rhino horn to Vietnam. South Africa has since stepped up its response to the crisis, by suspending the issue of hunting permits to Vietnamese nationals in April 2012.

South Africa has also increased the number of rhino related arrests, with 175 people arrested for rhino related crime by mid 2012, this compares to 165 for the whole of 2010. Of the 43 arrests for Asian nationals in South Africa, over half have been Vietnamese.

The criminal network in South Africa has expanded to include several game ranch owners, professional hunters and even wildlife vets. South Africa has responded with an increasing number of harsh prison sentences handed out for illegally dehorning rhinos and selling horns to the Asian market.

The report calls for Vietnam to ”review and strengthen legislation and penalties concerning illegal rhino horn trade” and to ”employ effective law enforcement strategies in the market place”.

With South Africa stepping up its response to the rhino poaching crisis, hopefully this report will have some impact in ensuring Vietnam collaborates to address the end use of illegally traded rhino horn, in order to safeguard Africa’s rhino populations for the future.

A full copy of the report can be found on Traffic’s website

You can donate to support anti-poaching and monitoring work in South Africa by clicking here

Photo credit Steve and Ann Toon

4 thoughts on “Vietnam driving South African poaching crisis

  1. What will it take before people will realise that compromise measures don’t work? The easy way to avoid pseudo trophy hunts is to ban trophy hunting completely. It is doing nothing to halt poaching, it seems to be making the illegal trade worse (certainly harder to police) and only seems to be benefiting the pockets of certain individuals. Has there been any quantitive research to show how holding these hunts has increased rhino numbers? This barbaric and outdated so-called ‘sport’ needs to be stopped. As for Vietnam, there can be little optimisim that the government will act on the recommendation of a report when senior ministers join in the claims that rhino horn cures cancer. How deeply embedded is the trade there and at what levels? The idea that these beautiful creatures are being slaughtered for hang over cures is beyond words of disgust. Words are not enough, there needs to be meaningful international sanctions in place.

  2. Andrew, thanks for this.

    We know the issue of trophy hunting, and the trophy hunting of rhinos, is a controversial one, and that opinion will be very polarised over this. Counter-intuitive though it may seem for an organisation called “”Save the Rhino International”” to support the trophy hunting of rhinos, we do (as we’ve always been clear to say).

    We’ve published on this subject before, but you might like to read a recent piece by Dr Mike Knight, Chair of the African Rhino Specialist Group, in response to wider discussion about the potential legalisation of the trade in rhino horn (another thorny issue we’ve aired on these pages). He makes the case for continuing to allow trophy hunting of rhinos, stating that it is the abuses that need to be stamped out, not the practice itself. We fully support his position on this.

    http://www.iucn.org/about/union/commissions/sustainable_use_and_livelihoods_specialist_group/sulinews/issue_2/sn2_rhinodebate/

    Cathy Dean, Director, Save the Rhino International

  3. Unbelievable…grinding up rhino horn and mixing the powder with water as a ‘hangover-cure’ following the excessive consumption of alcohol or rich food… What total decadence and stupid, primitive superstition… Educating these people is the only way, but this doesn’t make me optimistic about the nearby future, keeping in mind the growing number of ignorant people with enough money to create an increased demand for these things..

  4. Changing the mindsets of people in the Far East will not happen overnight. It will take generations to alter that.
    Clamping down on trade in recent years has only increased the demand/supply ratio, with exponential increase in the black market price of illegal horn.
    This ultimately lead to the situation where the big crime syndicates got involved, and they can spend fortunes on high tech equipment due to the high price of the product.
    Sustainable Utilization, controversial as it may seem, may be the only option that can be successfully implemented at this time, without driving the price up even further, and the poachers becoming more daring and even more organised.

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