Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Rhino poaching and the trade in rhino horn

Rhino horn is made of keratin, a hard fibrous protein also found in many other mammals as well as birds and reptiles in their skin, hair, nails, claws, shells, scales, feathers, beaks and hooves.

Faced with a direct threat from trade, member countries to CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) instituted a ban in the trade of horns from all species of rhino in 1975 (with the exception of the Southern white rhino, Ceratotherium simum simum, for which this protection began in 1977). Twenty years later this ban was relaxed for the South African population of the Southern white rhino, allowing the export of horns registered as hunting trophies as well as of live animals. In 2005 Swaziland followed suit.

Between the 1970s and 1990s, the illegal trade in rhino horn was largely driven by its demand in Yemen and Oman in particular, where rhino horn is carved into handles for jambiyas, carved daggers worn by men of affluence as a symbol of their wealth and social standing. On the other side of the world, rhino horn (xi jiao) has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries due to its described ‘heat reducing’ effect and its applications include treatment of hemorrhages, high fevers, convulsions, skin blotches and cleansing the blood of toxins.  Although in constant demand, the recent upsurge in rhino horn’s use across parts of Southeast and East Asia has been meteoric. This is in some part attributed to a widely dispersed report in the Vietnamese press of a cancer patient whose recovery was erroneously attributed to rhino horn’s cancer-curing properties. Rhino horn is also increasingly sought after, principally in Vietnam and China, as a high-end gift, a recreational substance among wealthy young people, and as an investment opportunity because of its escalating value (anecdotal reports suggest that rhino horn sells for as much as US$75,000 per kg in Vietnam).

Due to the huge demand for rhino horn and its black market price, an ever escalating rate of rhino poaching has been witnessed since 2008, often with well organized criminal syndicates implicated in its acquisition and illegal trade. This has been particularly the case in South Africa, where the largest numbers of rhinos exists, making these populations an obvious target. The death toll in South Africa has escalated from 13 rhino in 2007, to a staggering 1215 in 2014, and continues to rise.

Rhino Poaching in South Africa 2001 - 2014

Rhino Poaching in South Africa 2001 - 2014

The methods used by poachers to obtain rhino horns are also incredibly shocking, with horns along with parts of the animal’s face often brutally hacked off while the rhino is still alive. In an effort to deter poachers, some parks authorities and private rhino owners dehorn rhinos, although these efforts have many pit-falls, not least the risks associated with anaesthetising the animals, and the fact that poachers may still target the dehorned rhinos for the tiny amount of horn that remains. Young rhino are likewise also not spared, with dependent calves often killed for their tiny horn stubs, or left to starve while grieving for their mothers killed by the poachers.

Criminals have also been exploiting the trophy hunting loophole in the trade ban, organising ‘pseudo hunts’ where the individuals in whose name the hunting permits are issued have very little if anything to do with the actual shooting of the rhino. This practice invariably leads to horns finding their way to the black market, particularly in Vietnam.

The other impact of South Africa’s weakened trade ban has been the facilitation of a suspected industry in rhino farming in countries which have a high demand for rhino horn. Between 2000 and 2011, China alone imported 259 live Southern white rhino from South Africa. Apart from very serious welfare concerns for these animals, these export raise the prospect of  yet another source of supply of rhino horn, stimulating further demand and encouraging poaching of wild rhino.

Born Free opposes all trade in rhino horn, both illegal and under permit because it only acts to stimulate demand, and in turn fuels poaching. We do not believe that legalising the trade will help reduce poaching; indeed it may well result in increased demand through the legitimisation of the product in the eyes of consumers. Faced with the current epidemic of poaching, Born Free calls on the South African and Swaziland governments to suspend all exports of  rhino trophies and live animals, and desist from any attempt to create a legal trade in rhino horn.

Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906


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