African rhinos targeted by criminals, group says

Robert Evans PlanetArk 27 Feb 13;

Illegal killing of African rhinos is on the rise with at least 745 poached last year and over two a day being shot by poachers so far this year, the International Union for the conservation of Nature (IUCN) reported on Tuesday.

The Swiss-based inter-governmental body said the poaching rate - driven by the Asian demand for the animal's horn for use in Chinese traditional medicines - could threaten the rhino's long-term survival.

"Well-organized and well-funded crime syndicates are feeding the growing black market for rhino horn," said a statement from Mike Knight who chairs a team of experts within IUCN Special Survival Commission.

"High levels of consumption, and especially the escalating demand in Vietnam, threaten to soon reverse the considerable conservation gains achieved over the last two decades," Knight declared.

IUCN says the two principal rhino species, the Black and the White, total some 26,000 in Africa, just 5,055 Black rhinos and 20,405 White.

Poaching of the animals between 2011 and 2012 rose by 43 percent for a total of 745 animals, bringing a decline of 3 percent in the total population, the organization reported.

The statement said the crime syndicates involved in the lucrative but illegal trade used Mozambique, from where many poachers crossed into South Africa, as a major transit point to ship the horn, mainly to China and Vietnam.

South Africa's Kruger National Park near the Mozambique border is home to the world's largest rhino population. A total of 668 rhinos were illegally killed in South Africa last year, according to the IUCN.

(Reported by Robert Evans, editing by Paul)

African rhinos won’t hold out for much longer, IUCN experts warn
IUCN 26 Feb 13;

Gland, Switzerland, 26 February 2013 – Nearly 2,400 rhinos have been poached across Africa since 2006, slowing the population growth of both African rhino species to some of the lowest levels since 1995, according to the latest facts revealed by IUCN experts.

Rhino poaching increased by 43% between 2011 and 2012, representing a loss of almost 3% of the population in 2012, according to IUCN’s Species Survival Commission’s (SSC) African Rhino Specialist Group. Experts predict that if poaching continues to increase at this rate, rhino populations could start to decline in less than two years’ time.

“Well-organized and well-funded crime syndicates are continuing to feed the growing black market with rhino horn,” says Mike Knight, Chairman of the IUCN SSC African Rhino Specialist Group, a group of rhino experts within IUCN’s Species Survival Commission. “Over the past few years, consumer use of rhino horn has shifted from traditional Asian medicine practices to new uses, such as to convey status. High levels of consumption – especially the escalating demand in Viet Nam – threaten to soon reverse the considerable conservation gains achieved over the last two decades.”

There are currently 5,055 Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) and 20,405 White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) in Africa. Although these numbers have increased slightly over the last two years, there is no room for complacency. In 2012, at least 745 rhinos were poached throughout Africa – the highest number in two decades – with a record 668 rhinos killed in South Africa alone. In 2013, one rhino has been lost to poaching every 11 hours since the beginning of the year – a rate that is higher than the average for 2012.

Illegal trade in rhino horn is coordinated by well-organised criminal syndicates which transport the horns primarily to Viet Nam and China. Mozambique has also been identified as a key driver of poaching activities, with poachers making cross-border raids into the South African Kruger National Park, home to the world’s largest rhino population. Mozambique is also a major transit point for illegal horn to Asia.

IUCN experts call upon the international community – especially the key consumer and transit states such as Viet Nam, China and Mozambique – to urgently address the crisis by strengthening and enforcing regional and international trade laws, particularly in relation to rhino horn.

“The rhino community is encouraged by the signing of a recent Memorandum of Understanding between South Africa and Viet Nam to address the rhino poaching epidemic as well as other conservation issues,” says Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission. “However, it needs to be reinforced with tangible government action on both sides. International and regional collaboration needs to be strengthened, as does sharing of information, intelligence and expertise to address wildlife crime issues.”

Updated facts on the rhino crisis come on the eve of the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) that will take place from 3 to 14 March in Bangkok, Thailand. Illegal rhino horn trade will be one of the many issues discussed at the meeting.

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