Friday, May 13, 2011

Vietnam behind rise in rhino poaching?

A new demand for rhino horn in Vietnam could be stimulating the illegal poaching of rhinos in South Africa, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) says.

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African rhino horn. File picture.
African rhino horn. File picture.
Photograph by: Reuben Goldberg

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"There are allegations of rhino horn being used for medicinal use in Vietnam as a cure for cancer and other ailments," EWT CEO Yolan Friedmann told a briefing in Johannesburg.

"This may explain the increase in investment into ways to access rhino and the technology involved."

Rhino poaching increasing sharply from 2008, thought to be mainly due to the use of rhino horn in traditional Chinese medicine and for dagger handles in Yemen and other Middle Eastern countries.

"Legal hunting of rhino, in which the country gets a quota, has been used as a way in which to access horn," Friedmann said.

The quota was normally used for trophy hunting by amateur or professional hunters.

"When you see a Vietnamese client who has never pulled a trigger or a woman over 50, it becomes clear that it's not simply trophy hunting... the price of trophy hunting has also almost doubled ," she said.

The EWT, together with SA National Parks, private rhino owners and other organisations, were working to improve security at borders, game reserves and farms. Friedmann said many private owners were caught off guard last year when poachers infiltrated their farms because of poor security. They did not handle the crime scenes well and compromised evidence, leading to cases being dropped.

"We have given info booklets to farm owners on how to manage crime scenes to help investigators."

The trust was training various officials at border posts on rhino horn detection. Less than 10 percent of poached rhino horns were currently being seized, Friedmann said.

She rejected suggestions that poaching could be curbed by injecting poison into the horns of live rhino.

"It's illegal and impractical... what types of poison would be used, how long would it last, would we poison the rhino, would the poison spread into the environment? It's not an option."

She said the best option was high security and faster reaction to catch poachers.

"At the current numbers they are not facing extinction yet, but the markets and drivers [of poaching are] not likely to decrease... this has become part of formalised, organised crime. It's not just an environmental issue anymore."

In 2010, a total of 330 rhino were poached on private farms and in national reserves in South Africa. According to Friedmann the current figure was between 145 to 150 rhino.

The country's total rhino population is 20,000 to 22,000.

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