The United Nations TV (UNTV), and the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) launched today at Rio + 20 the film Rhino under threat. From the massive parks in South Africa and Swaziland, to the crowded streets of Hanoi in Viet Nam, the film shows the brutality of the current spike in illegal killing of rhino and the impact it is having on local communities. The film investigates what is driving the demand for rhino horn in Asia and the powerful measures being taken by national authorities to fight this crime. UNTV obtained exclusive access to the Environmental Crime Investigation and Air Services of South Africa and to black markets in Hanoi.
In 2007, poachers killed 13 rhino in South Africa. In 2011, this number has risen to 448 and the number of rhinos killed so far this year is 245, while 161 arrests have been made. The CITES/UNTV film Rhino under threat shows the role of organised syndicates in wildlife crime, and the need for a tough coordinated enforcement response - from work in the field, to the use of DNA technology, to effective prosecutions, and the need for severe penalties.
"If the current trends in illegal killing continue, we will drive the rhino, this iconic species, to extinction in the wild" said Mr John E. Scanlon, CITES Secretary-General. "We need to work together at national and international levels to stop the poaching, stop the smuggling and stop the consuming. It will be tough, but if we manage to work together, we will win this fight", he added.
"Success in rhino conservation has been a function of political will and significant field effort to protect rhinos on the ground as well as gathering intelligence. It is clear that today we need to redouble our efforts. That's why IUCN stands ready to support the range States, conservation groups, CITES and its partners to ensure future survival of the rhino in the wild," said IUCN Director General Julia Marton-Lefèvre.
"The recent increase in rhino poaching can be reversed if governments in both Africa and Asia prioritise law enforcement, prosecutions and demand reduction. Illegal wildlife trade is a serious crime that compromises national security and people's safety. To secure a future for rhinos, leadership is needed from Viet Nam, the biggest current destination for rhino horn," said Jim Leape, Director General of WWF International.
A GEF-funded project was recently approved to strengthen law enforcement capacity in South Africa's protected area system through forensic-based technologies focused on the rhinoceros. GEF funding will be used by the Government of South Africa for a dedicated forensic laboratory. This facility will provide timely DNA analysis of forensic evidence for the prosecution of wildlife crimes, and enhance the existing coordination and information sharing among all actors involved in the law enforcement and anti-poaching efforts in the country and the region.
Commenting on the approval of the GEF rhino project, Ms Monique Barbut, GEF CEO and Chairperson declared: “The poaching of endangered species is a serious threat to the world's biodiversity and it warrants the deployment of all methods at our disposal: better engagement with local communities, improved management of protected areas, and the latest anti-poaching technology to catch those responsible.” “The GEF is pleased to be working with CITES and the Government of South Africa to protect the rhinoceros,” she added.
Rhinoceroses are poached to supply an extremely profitable but poorly understood market. Based upon available information, the demand for rhino horn comes principally from Asia, with the major destination appearing to be Viet Nam. There, according to a report commissioned by the CITES Secretariat, increasing levels of demand have been fueled by rumours of rhino horn being a cure for cancer, and being increasingly used in a manner akin to a recreational drug, such as ‘rhino wine,’ to improve male sexual performance, and to treat hangovers and other ill-effects of the over-consumption of food, drugs or alcohol. None of these uses is recognized in traditional medicine.
In addition, theft of rhino horns from museums, auction houses or at antique or taxidermist shops has occurred in the European Union. Since 2011, EUROPOL has recorded 56 successful and 10 attempted thefts. Criminals stole horns from museums and private collections in 15 countries, with many of the thefts believed to be linked to an organized criminal group, who are known to use intimidation and violence to achieve their ends. The group is believed to be active in Asia, North and South America and Europe.
In the United States, seven people were arrested on charges of trafficking in endangered black rhinoceros horn in February 2012, as part of “Operation Crash,” a multi-agency effort to investigate and prosecute those involved in the black market trade of endangered rhinoceros horn.
In South Africa, persons from Mozambique and Viet Nam caught trying to smuggle rhinoceros horn out of the country were given long prison sentences – sending out a powerful message to those who seek to engage in illegal wildlife trade. These convictions reflect the combined efforts of enforcement officials, prosecutors and the judiciary in South Africa where the whole system worked to bring these criminals to justice.
It is clear that the increased levels of rhino poaching and rhino horn thefts has an impact on several continents and that a well coordinated law enforcement response, as well as high-level political responses, will be required to addresses this problem effectively.
Background on rhinoceroses
There are five species of rhino, all included in the CITES Appendices. The Javan, Sumatran and Indian rhinos are found in Asia and are listed in Appendix I. The first two are considered to be as critically endangered and Indian rhinos as vulnerable in the IUCN’s Red List. The Javan rhino subspecies in Viet Nam was declared extinct by WWF on 25 October 2011. A small population of Javan rhinos still exists in Indonesia, which has prompted President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia to declare 5 June 2012 the start of the International Year of the Rhino.
The number of black rhinos in the wild is estimated at 5,000 individuals and that of white rhinos at 20,000. Both are found in Africa and their range and numbers declined very significantly in the past. Populations then recovered, particularly in Southern Africa which has its recovered white rhino population listed in CITES Appendix II. A fresh wave of poaching in the past few years, however, is posing a significant threat to this recovery. The western black rhino was also declared extinct in November 2011.
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