Rhino and Elephants in the Cross-hairs of Organised Crime
The brutal killing this past weekend of eight rhinoceros in South Africa follows hard on the heels of four record sized confiscations of illegal elephant ivory, once again shining the spotlight on the relentless and bloody onslaught against African wildlife for profit.
The eight rhino – seven adults and a calf – were found shot, hacked with machetes and dehorned on a farm in the North West Province of South Africa. Shockingly the animals were also mutilated for their eyes and ears, while one female had her genitalia cut off.
The latest killings bring to 558 rhinos killed in South Africa in 2012, up from 448 in 2011 and 333 in 2010. Last week South African courts handed down their stiffest sentence yet for wildlife related crime - 40 years to a Thai national found guilty of selling rhino horn.
“The killing of rhinos for their horns does not exist in a vacuum, but is a complex problem involving transnational organized wildlife crime,” says Jason Bell, Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare Southern Africa and Director of IFAW’s Elephant Programme (IFAW – www.ifaw.org)
“Be it elephants and ivory, tigers and tiger parts, rhinos and rhino horn, the endpoint is the same – profit. And that profit driving organized criminals engaging in the bloody trade chain from poaching of endangered animals to smuggling and trading of their parts.”
In the past month customs authorities have confiscated four large consignments of elephant ivory – in Dubai, Tanzania and two in Hong Kong (most recently on Friday) where over five tons of contraband ivory have taken into custody since late October.
Bell said the last 24 months have been among the most deadly ever for elephants and rhino.
“In 2011, in total, authorities seized close to 24,3 tonnes (27 tons) of illegal ivory – the biggest amount in 23 years - and, in the first quarter of 2012, poachers in Cameroon slaughtered an estimated 650 elephants for their ivory.
“In South Africa, the numbers of rhinos being poached for their horns grows and grows, with the numbers of rhinos killed in 2012 already almost double that what it was two years ago with most of those being in killed in the Kruger National Park, arguably wildlife’s best secured habitat,” said Bell.
Bell said there was a strong lobby in South Africa (including from its own national parks authority), to reinstate a legal, regulated trade in rhino horn – claiming that a regulated trade would help satisfy market demand and thus lead to a reduction in poaching.
“Allowing parallel legal ivory markets to exist creates enforcement difficulties, provides cover for illegal trade, confuses consumers, and stimulates market demand which further fuels poaching of endangered species. Applying the failed attempt to regulate elephant ivory trade on rhino horn trade again will be the death knell on the world’s last rhinos.” said Bell.
“Biologically, elephants and rhinos simply cannot support an economic model of supply and demand. No wildlife can sustain this type of commercial exploitation, let alone a long-living, slow growing, slow-breeding species.
“Killing of rhino and elephants will only stop when markets for the products are closed,” said Bell.
Few animals are as threatened by wildlife trafficking as elephants. Earlier this year IFAW raised the alarm as hundreds of elephants were slaughtered in Cameroon. A recent report from IFAW makes it clear that Chinese demand, and demand in other Asian countries, is largely to blame.
This is part of a worldwide capacity building initiative by IFAW which trains law enforcement officers in wildlife trafficking prevention in several countries throughout Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Oceania, and the Caribbean. To date, more than 1,300 governmental representatives at the forefront of this struggle have been trained since 2006.
About IFAW (the International Fund for Animal Welfare)
Founded in 1969, IFAW saves animals in crisis around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.