Requiem for two species of rhino

Hong Kong, SAR of China, Customs seized on Tuesday a total of 33 rhino horns, 758 ivory chopsticks and 127 ivory bracelets, worth about HK$17.4 million ($2.23 million), inside a container shipped from Cape Town, South Africa, according the a customs press release. Bobby Yip / ReutersSome days simply begin badly.  Today is one of those days. 

As I began reading updates on International Fund for Animal Welfare projects and our work in general, I came across the following shocking headlines:  “Africa's Western Black Rhino declared extinct, Java Rhino Probably Extinct in Vietnam.” 

A few months ago, in my blog on the theft of rhino horns from museums around the world, I asked the following; Could it possibly mean that protection of rhinos in the wild has become so good that thieves are forced to turn to easier pickings?  I speculated that it was doubtful but it is pretty clear now that poachers are still working full tilt and won't stop until every last animal is killed.  Poachers killed the last remaining Java Rhino in Vietnam in 2010.

The recent seizure of 33 rhino horns by Hong Kong SAR of China officials clearly indicates that the trafficking of wildlife and wildlife products is alive and well.  The Hong Kong seizure represents 2.3 million U.S. dollars on the black market.  The container hiding the rhino horns, along with other ivory products, was shipped from Cape Town, South Africa with its destination likely somewhere inside mainland China. 

South Africa has a much better grip on poaching and illegal transit of wildlife products than many other countries in Africa but their argument that South Africa has poaching under control and that they should, therefore, be allowed to legally trade in ivory and other wildlife products has suffered a serious blow with this seizure.

With more than one billion inhabitants, the appetite for wildlife products in China is larger than any other nation on earth, yet we continue to make progress in changing attitudes towards animals in that country  IFAW is increasing its efforts to educate consumers in China and to convince them that they must turn away from these products and that they have acceptable alternatives. We have focused our work on stopping poaching in the field and reducing demand for rhino horns and ivory in China.

Let's be clear. Stopping the senseless killing of rhinos for products that no one needs is an ethical decision.  Conservation practices based solely on population numbers have had their time in the sun and they have failed; their time has passed.  At IFAW, we focus on the welfare of individual animals as well as the health of populations; to us there is no acceptable argument for slaughtering rhinos and driving them to extinction for our vanity.  We believe this is cruel, eventually devastates the population, and the practice diminishes us as human beings.

-- AD

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