Rhino Poaching – Who’s Involved?
POACHING has been around for hundreds of years but has not really caught the media and press spotlight until our ionic million year old species of Rhinoceros and Elephant began declining in size from Africa to Asia. Every day in Africa alone some ninety six Elephants a day are poached for their ivory while Rhinoceros’s are hacked to death daily for their horn to be used in Traditional Chinese Medicine at a rate of four to five Rhinoceros a day.
It wasn’t until the late Middle Ages that poaching became a punishable offense. During this time, the right to hunt was limited to landowners and nobility. Peasants usually did not have weapons, skills or the extra time to hunt, so in order to provide food for their families they devised another way to bring meat to their tables. While this is not necessarily the case in Africa regarding the Rhinoceros and Elephant other big game animals are hunted too for the sole purpose of bringing food to the tables of impoverished African communities. Animals poached can range from Kudu, Impala, Giraffe, Lion being just some of the most sought after species of animals illegally poached.
While hunting was reserved for the privileged, it was illegal to buy and sell wild animals. It remained illegal to do so until the mid-1800s. Gangs of poachers formed outlaw bands and sold animals through the black market. Buyers of black-market food even included wealthy people, who could not or chose not to hunt on their own. As rural poverty was prevalent in the 1700s, many people turned to poaching just to survive. Commoners protected poachers as an act of rebellion, because food was so scarce. Though poaching gangs did provide food to the poor, they were also violent and often greedy, poaching to feed the black market more so than hungry peasants. It was from this period of the 1700’s that the black market trade in animal parts and meat began to increase however there was little poaching of Elephants and Rhinoceros.
Because authorities could not depend on citizens to turn in poachers, they created traps and spring-guns that would maim or kill poachers. In the 1830s, traps and spring guns were deemed illegal, and in 1883, peasants were allowed to kill small game, such as hares and rabbits, on their own farms. Have poaching issues changed since the Middle Ages? Indeed, they have.
So what’s changed? Quite a lot to be honest. Poaching back in the early 1700’s although more a misdemeanor offence and localized problem was never really deemed a “threat to national security”. When Taliban and al-Qaeda war lord Osama Bin Laden ordered the attacks on the World Trade Centers September 11th 2001 evidence emerged of wildlife black market trade increasing soon after. One can see such evidence in the graph below that depicts ivory trade and poaching of elephants alone increasing at a staggering rate within the first two years after the attacks on the World Trade Centers in America.
Poaching for necessity is not much of an issue today. Though there are people who hunt or fish for food, they comprise a small fraction of the larger problem. In fact, Pennsylvania Game Commission Bureau of Wildlife Protection Director Richard Palmer stated in a testimony for House Bill 2205, “The causes of poaching vary, but the myth that most poachers are committing their offenses to provide food is in reality not even a fraction of a percentage of all cases prosecuted. Often, modern poaching is done by criminals driving $30,000 vehicles, using expensive night-vision technology, illegal silencers on the firearms, and often military-style rifles”
Nearly every country faces modern poaching issues. In North America poachers illegally kill large numbers of deer, elk, black bear, turkey, moose, antelope, cougar, big horn sheep, mountain goat, pheasants, as well as various species of fish such as walleye, sturgeon and salmon, and even the ginseng plant. In Africa, as well as other continents, poaching is a major problem, with animals being killed solely for body parts. The African Elephant is a more recent victim of poachers, with its tusks being valued at more than $350 per pound ($700 per kilogram). Poachers cut the elephant’s face off, leaving the body to rot in the dense jungles. This makes it very challenging for law enforcement officials to locate the remains to in order to qualify the kills.
International Animal Rescue Foundation’s Ead (External Affairs) unit agrees with the majority of international Non-Profit’s that poaching is now considered a threat to local and national security and as explained above is no longer seen as a necessity for food but rather a source of funding to purchase firearms, heavy artillery, ammunition down to explosives. Furthermore poaching for animal parts is funding people trafficking and narcotic trades worldwide. A few days ago we printed on our Facebook page a brief look into whom the main players were within the poaching industry. Penalties for poaching and wildlife trafficking seem not to bother criminals that continue the demand of wildlife parts.
In the 1500s, killing deer meant death to anyone but royalty
Between the mid- 1700s and the first half of the 1800s poachers were hanged or sent to Australia, especially if guns were used or a gamekeeper was injured in the crime.
It used to be that poachers were able to keep their licenses as long as they paid their fines, and in most states, jail time was unheard of. Today, as poaching problems grow and more species are becoming threatened or endangered, laws are getting tougher and citizens are getting angrier. Law-abiding hunters view poachers as villains who ruin the good name of legal hunting. Currently, poaching laws vary by state. In Pennsylvania, while poaching is considered a summary offense with no chance of imprisonment, lawmakers are actively pursuing stiffer penalties and fines. West Virginia has lower fines but imposes stiff jail terms for poaching offenses. A third offense gets you a felony conviction, with up to a $10,000 fine, one to five years in prison and a lifetime hunting license revocation
Ohio toughened its laws recently to include restitution values based on true-market value, fines and revocation of hunting licenses not only in Ohio but also in neighboring states
In Minnesota, the Department of Natural Resources cannot only confiscate a poacher’s hunting and fishing licenses but also his boat and gear as soon as the value of whatever was poached hits $500
Canada is battling its own poaching wars, but you might be surprised to learn that it’s for fish. Using large drift nets, poachers target salmon, sturgeon, rockfish and shellfish. Canada does not only punish the poacher but also whoever purchased the poached fish. The effects of poaching probably have a wider range than you might think.
So who are the main instigators and players in the poaching triangle?
Don or Kingpin’s
At the very top of the illegal wildlife trade or any illegal trade to be precise is the Don or kingpin whom is a person in charge of a criminal organization. The Kingpin as he or she is more commonly known is the main leader that calls the shots on what is hunted illegally, the prices that are incurred, who sells what and where. Kingpins lead a very lucrative and high-powered lifestyle lavishing in hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars. Taking the wildlife trade in Africa as an example with both Elephant and Rhinos most if not all Don’s or kingpins will originate within Asia. These criminal warlords are mostly untouchable and lead a very private life bribing police and governmental ministers to ensure their rather luxury lifestyle continues regardless of whether both species of Rhino and Elephant are pushed from extant to extinction. Please note there will always be two warlords within the poaching trade. The main Don will be number one in Asia that runs and overseas entire operations under his command. Whilst the second Don or kingpin will be of African origin that organizes poaching hits and settles prices with the Asian courier via the Asian kingpin. Both Asian and African kingpins will be in constant communication with one-another either via the world wide web or telephone of which trade routes will be discussed on a routine basis.
One Mr Big as he is known in Asia and also untouchable is Vixay Keosavang (pictured below) one of the most ruthless and prolific wildlife criminals operating in South-East Asia today. Some call him the “Pablo Escobar of animal trafficking”. Others describe him as the “Mr Big” of wildlife crime in Laos, the tiny one-party communist state bordered by Myanmar, China, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam that continues to harbor him. Vixay Keosavang has ordered many hits on Elephants, Rhinos, Tigers, Pangolins and many more endangered animals all over Africa and Asia. Vixay Keosavang is untouchable due to the fact he uses his wealth from African and Asian animal parts to bribe police and Asian governmental ministers. Vixay Keosavang if taken out would see quite a significant decrease in demand and trade and send a clear message to the world that poaching will not be tolerated and no matter where you hide you will be apprehended and convicted.
There are many more Vixay Keosavang’s out there too that once believed their wealth in Asian animal parts could buy them immunity from the arm of the law. Nicknamed the “Lizard King”, “Pablo Escobar of the wildlife trade” and “Asian wildlife kingpin”, Anson Wong (pictured below) began his foray into the wildlife trade by exhibiting reptiles at the now-defunct Bukit Jambul Reptile Sanctuary, a registered company that he and his wife owned. Little did he know that his reign of terror was about to come to an abrupt end. Anson Wong was lured in via an undercover operation code-named Operation Chameleon to Mexico by agents from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. On arriving and handling the deal was he then arrested.
Undercover agents infiltrated Wong’s network, which imported and exported more than 300 protected species via Penang by concealing them in express delivery packages, airline baggage and large commercial shipments of legally declared animals. He was arrested but fought a US order for his extradition for two years. He failed in the end and was prosecuted in the United States on June 7, 2001, when he was handed a 71-month jail term and fined US$60,000 (S$80646). Wong was also banned from selling animals to anybody in the United States for three years after his jail term. Wong has since left prison and as is still continuing his trade of illegal wildlife parts internationally and locally. International Animal Rescue Foundation Africa has been lobbying the USFWS and governments throughout the African continent to alter and increase their punishment convictions as small mandatory jail terms and fines are simply not working. The longer these king pins continue their luxury life style more species of animals will become extinct. It is near impossible to document on just how many of these ruthless king pins there actually are operating all over the world. Files we hold show as many as sixteen in operation from Great Britain, United States, Australia, Ireland Nepal, Vietnam, Russia, Poland being just few of the known Don’s that have organised raids on museums, killing of Rhino in zoological gardens, trafficking of animal parts down to hit men being paid to take down head rangers and African farmers that have helped disrupt illegal trade.
Many commentators on our main African Conservation Facebook page have been led to believe that “Asian” citizens involved in “poaching” are taking down our African Elephant and Rhinoceros. This is not true at all. While we was aware that pseudo hunting via Asian gangs linked to Vixay Keosavang’ and his now imprisoned right hand lieutenant Chumlong Lemtongthai were actively involved in “permitted pseudo hunting” this was more an isolated case that saw the (DEA) Department of Environmental Affairs later ban Vietnamese hunting permits back in 2012. However since then it has been noted that since the ban was implemented hunting permits increased to some 200% from China and Eastern Europe. CITES and the DEA are fully aware of this and it has been placed in writing that it is most likely permits obtained to pseudo hunt. Yet nothing has been done to stem the flow of possible illegal activities. One must also remember not to confuse the “pseudo hunter” that has obtained a legal permit with non-permitted hunters (poachers). Although there is no difference in reality it has been documented on lower down the page.
African poachers will be in communication with their own Don or king pin within Mozambique (example). From there spotters or scouts will be on the hunt for Rhinoceros and Elephants laying traps or poisoning water holes with cyanide or other agricultural chemicals. Poachers use a range of military equipment such as high powered hunting rifles, night vision goggles and will most likely be ex-special forces. Poachers are not as unintelligent as they may look. Before going into the field they also search online and use software to that can pinpoint where a Rhino or Elephant is located by examining pictures uploaded from tourists. Information on how this is done has been withheld. Poachers that are well organized normally operate in groups of two. One group will be the search and reconnaissance team looking out for large mammals, rangers and anti poachers. The second team will be a group of no more than two to three mostly men that communicate back to the first team that can stay in the field for days if not a week at a time. These poachers are what we call “highly organised” that use stealth and military skills to search and butcher Rhinoceros and Elephants. However there are also “individual opportunistic” poachers that normally on the off chance of spotting a Rhino or Elephant will then track the animal then kill. Regardless of the organised and opportunistic poachers they all communicate back to the main African king-pin that then orders the courier. A price will be placed on the table then deal is done. Pictured below is one poacher from Mozambique that was charged with the manslaughter of his fellow accomplice whom was shot dead by Rangers this year. This case was the first of its kind that can be read more about here.
When vast sums of money can be made in a single day it sadly doesn’t deter anyone that wants to take down our beloved 22 million year old species of Rhino or Elephant. Pictured below are two African farmers that were involved in poaching of Rhino and other game species. The farmer believed to be behind a poaching syndicate in Northern KwaZulu-Natal, was said to be a dangerous criminal who told a police agent he wanted to shoot someone in the head to see what it looked like. So said Warrant Officer Jean-Pierre van Zyl-Roux, testifying in the Magudu Magistrate’s Court in a bail application. He said alleged syndicate leader Evert Potgieter, 34, also had links to corrupt cops. He asked the court not to grant bail to Potgieter and three of his four alleged accomplices. The five are faced charges of conspiracy to hunt 10 Rhino and attempting to hunt Rhino. Potgieter and his co-accused Riaan Vermaak, 32, a Newcastle farmer, face additional charges of possessing unlicensed firearms and ammunition and stolen property. Potgieter and Vermaak, together with their alleged accomplices, Philomon Mbatha, 42 and brothers Dumisane, 30, and Nkosinathi Sithole, 32 – both security guards at the Mkuze Falls Private Game Reserve – were arrested in 2012 during a sting operation when undercover police agents were taken to the reserve to poach TEN Rhino. The two farmers can be seen pictured below;
Potgieter and his co-accused Riaan Vermaak, 32 farmers and family arrested and charged for conspiring to kill ten Rhino
International Animal Rescue Foundation regularly investigates farmers, hunters and rangers that may be cashing in on the thousands that can be made from hunting Rhino or Elephant. Had the two and their accomplices succeeded in poaching the ten Rhino then sold onto Asia they would have generated over $3.5 million between them. The true scale of just whom is involved in poaching is more complicated and complex than you could possibly imagine. Those whom believe that poachers derive from Mozambique think again. And it doesn’t just stop at farmers or hunters neither. The very people that are paid to STOP poachers and secure the life of our mega-fauna have also been arrested and charged with Rhino poaching or conspiring to poach. Again this year we see the SANparks and SAPs law enforcement officers arrested this May 2014. Back in 2012-2013 SANparks and the South African Police Force came under fire of which (members) of some staff had been arrested and charged for conspiring to poach or had been caught poaching and dealing in Rhino horn. Early in 2013 International Animal Rescue Foundation Africa offered SANparks two polygraph’s and a month’s worth of training on using the system. SANparks declined our offer. It is quite clear that there are some corrupt individuals within SANparks and as of this May 2014 we will not continue to just shrug this off that SANparks is dealing with the problem as its quite evident they are not. SANparks must now clean their act up as it is setting a very bad example to the public and other rangers that are honestly genuine. SANparks this May quoted the following; PLEASE take note of the Chinese (couriers) that were caught red handed in South Africa.
SANparks statement is seen below;
The Minister of Environmental Affairs, Mrs Edna Molewa, the Hawks and SANParks have welcomed the arrest of a former SANParks field ranger and two SAPS members by South African National Parks (SANParks).
The arrest that Tuesday of the former SANParks field Sergeant and two police constables based at the Skukuza police station in the Kruger National Park was the results of a joint intelligence-driven operation between the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks) and officials of the Kruger National Park. Park rangers and the Endangered Species team of the Hawks were on their routine duties when they came across a black rhinoceros carcass in the Kruger National Park on Tuesday morning.
The team pulled a marked Skukuza police van over after receiving information. On searching the van, a person suspected of being a poacher, who was armed with a .375 hunting rifle and rounds of ammunition, was found. When the constables were asked about the man and the rifle, they could not give a satisfactory explanation and were arrested.
During the operation the rifle, ammunition, a silencer and poaching equipment was seized.
“The SANParks and SAPS officials who performed the arrests are congratulated for their outstanding work. The arrest sends a strong message that officials alleged to be involved in poaching will be arrested and face the full might of the law,” said Minister Molewa. The Head of the Hawks in Mpumalanga, Major General Simon Mapyane, applauded the team under the stewardship of Colonel Johan Brits for work well done.
“Colonel Brits went on pension that Friday, 30 May 2014, after serving the police for 39 years and eight days. He is leaving a mark and has handed the mantle to the team,” said General Mapyane.
“The suspects were tasked with the responsibility to patrol the streets around the park and to confront suspicious vehicles. It is clear that these members were doing the opposite,” added General Mapyane. Both members are now facing charges of corruption and the person suspected of being a poacher is facing charges of being in the possession of unlicensed firearms and ammunition. They will appear in the Skukuza Magistrates’ Court soon. In another operation in the early hours of the 27 May 2014, rangers at Pretoriuskop made contact with a group of suspected poachers. During the incident, one of the suspects was fatally wounded and the remaining two managed to escape under the cover of darkness. Poaching equipment, a .458 hunting rifle and ammunition were recovered during the operation.
The Officer Commanding of the SANParks Rangers Corps, Major General (RET) Johan Jooste commended all the units that were involved in the arrests of the suspects. He added that the war was intensifying but the men and women in uniform were certainly up to the task.
“The incursions are now relentless and taking their toll on our resources, but we have men and women that are dedicated and fully committed to the cause, they are determined to win this war,” said Maj Gen (ret) Jooste.
These successes follow shortly after a very successful week of SANParks / SAPS operations both inside and outside the Kruger. Three foreign Chinese nationals were arrested in Gauteng on the 22nd May for possession and dealing in rhino horn, whilst six suspected poachers were arrested in the surrounding areas just outside the KNP and a further two arrested and two fatally wounded inside the KNP.
The Park has been under tremendous pressure from poachers, as it is home to over eighty percent of the global population of both white and black rhino that still roam in the wild. The animals are being illegally hunted for their horn, driven mainly by demand from South East Asia. Crime syndicates have been identified as the main culprits in recruiting those that kill the animals.
Since January 1, 2014, the Kruger National Park has lost 290 animals to poachers and 52 individuals have been arrested. A total of 419 rhinos have been poached in South Africa so far this year.
Of the total number of rhinos poached, 48 rhinos have been killed in Limpopo, 41 in KwaZulu-Natal and 26 in North West. A total of 119+ people have been arrested in connection with rhino poaching. Maj Gen (ret) Jooste reminded South Africans that the battle will be won outside the reserves, when the kingpins are brought to book.
Poaching may be seen to some as just a one sided issue and that all poachers involved are just black Africans. Sadly this is not the case and even as we document tonight there are white and black African farmers and hunters, rangers and members of the public conspiring to poach Rhino or Elephant. As we have said the vast sums of money that can be made heavily outweighs the conviction and or being shot dead by police or rangers trying to stop poachers. So as one can see “poaching” is not actually undertaken by Asian citizens but more African farmers, hunters and some members of the security forces that are paid to stop poachers.
Couriers are all part of the “organised syndicated ring” of wildlife traffickers. They mainly derive from Asia and will only travel into Rhino territory when a deal is on the table due to fear of being captured by Police or enforcement teams. Once a Rhino or Elephant is poached the Don or king-pin in Africa will then set up a line of communication with the Mr Big in Asia. The courier is then sent to Africa to pick the horns or tusks up then a trade route is established via smuggling through shipping lanes, or cargo planes. As Rhino horn is quite expensive and easy to cut down and conceal the majority of Rhino horn is illegally trafficked from Africa into Asia in under 24-48 hours via plane.
Whereas Elephant tusks that can be quite large and are rarely cut down to size being least expensive too are normally trafficked illegally from African sea ports. Loading on to ships is discreet and when the mostly “African or Asian” vessel enters Asian ports from Africa the cargo will be fixed to the underside of the ship before entering port. A deal will be made by the corrupt ship captain and Asian customs. From there the cargo is hauled up from a concealed hold under the ship then transported to factories across China mostly. 90% of all ivory in China has no permits – meaning that all 90% has been illegally trafficked into China. That just shows how lack enforcement is with regards to sea trafficking routes and airways too. Couriers are what keeps the demand going. No courier no demand = no poaching. These individuals and traffickers from both sea and airports must be stopped. The picture below shows one courier that was arrested illegally trafficking Rhino horn from Mozambique into Asia. Unfortunately for every poacher or courier that is arrested, charged and sent to prison a further two to three are born. At the end of the day when money can be made no one is going to say no. Couriers are paid a months wages in a single day too by the main Mr Big’s.
Couriers or traffickers as they are normally known continue the huge demand in wildlife parts. Back in 2010 two Vietnamese men were convicted for smuggling Rhino horn, Phi Hung Nguyeng, also arrested at O.R. Tambo Airport in June 2010, was found guilty of illegal possession of six Rhino horns and was sentenced to eight years in prison: one year for each horn he possessed, plus an additional two years for fraud. Both men were arrested 30 minutes before the Opening Ceremony of the World Cup that South Africa hosted in 2010. During sentencing, Magistrate Manyathi warned Rhino poachers and Rhino horn couriers that it made no difference whether you killed the Rhino or carried the horns, the same penalty would be handed down. If you have information on surrounding the illegal peddling of Rhino horn or Ivory you are asked to contact Interpol or any good Environmental Organisation that will investigate.
Mentioned in past and present articles we have compiled many lists of corrupt individuals that are all cashing in on the thousands made peddling Rhino horn and ivory to Asia. Hunters, veterinary officers, pilots, rangers, anti-poaching personnel down to governmental ministers inside of Africa and Asia. Corruption is one the largest obstacles to actually restrain simply because there are so many people involved and many people are high powered ministers that abuse their position thus slipping the arm of the law.
Back in 2012 It emerged that on the same day US President Barack Obama was in Tanzania to announce increased aid to combat wildlife trafficking, a former US government official was arraigned after being caught with nearly two pounds of ivory he meant to smuggle out of Kenya. American national David McNevin, who once served as a defense attaché at the American embassy in Kenya, was arraigned on July 1, just as Obama committed an additional $10 million in anti-wildlife trafficking aid in neighboring Tanzania. Hilary Clinton in 2012 stated that America was the second largest country in the world that is heavily involved in the trade of illegal animal parts. Although many arrests are being made buy the FBI, CIA and United States Fish and Wildlife Service enforcement officers its still not deterring the hundreds of people that want to line their pockets with blood gold.
McNevin was found with “five ivory bangles, seven ivory finger rings, seven ivory pendants and two pieces of worked ivory” weighing a total of 1.8 pounds (0.8 kg), the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) reported.
McNevin was arrested at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport while trying to board a flight to Amsterdam on night of June 29.
According to The New York Times, McNevin pleaded guilty and paid a fine of 30,000 shillings (about $350 USD). Paul Udoto, a spokesman for KWS, said McNevin was dealt with in “the way we deal with any criminal trying to commit a crime,” adding that McNevin did not invoke diplomatic status and that the American embassy did not reach out to KWS.
“He was in a hurry to finish the case and get on his way,” Udoto said, according to The Times. The illegal trade of animals or animal parts has seen all-time financial highs in recent years. The illicit industry is believed to generate as much as $10 billion a year, placing it among the ranks of human trafficking, the drug trade, counterfeiting and the illegal arms trade, according to a Washington Post report.
Ivory is being smuggled out of Africa at unprecedented rates, leaving the fate of elephants on the continent in peril. Elephants could become extinct in Africa within a decade if the problem of poaching elephants for their tusks is not stopped, The Times reported, citing non-profit group Wildlife Direct.
The group called for the US to do more to stop the trade of ivory within its borders. “We know that the US has thriving ivory markets, and 30 percent of the ivory is illegal,” said Paula Kahumbu, executive director of Wildlife Direct. “We are calling for a US ban on domestic trade.” Trade of ivory has been linked to enabling the spread of weapons and promoting regional instability in parts of Africa, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a recent report to the UN Security Council, the highest international security body.
“Illegal ivory trade may currently constitute an important source of funding for armed groups,” the report stated. “Also of concern is that poachers are using more and more sophisticated and powerful weapons, some of which, it is believed, might be originating from the fallout in Libya.”
While US Kenyan Defense Attache Kevin McNevin was brought to justice – Back in 2008 pictured herein in South Africa Vu Moc Anh a Vietnamese Embassy First Secretary was caught red-handed with Rhino horn on film. She denied the incident ever took place despite proof on tape. Vu Moc Anh escaped any form of police conviction and remained protected at the embassy. South African Police Force did not intervene nor have they made any attempt to arrest her when she LEFT the embassy on many occasions travelling to Vietnam and back to Africa. Vu Moc Anh is pictured below.
Head Kruger Vet Arrested
Two veterinarians and a professional hunter have been arrested in connection with the wrongful possession and distribution of veterinary drugs commonly used in Rhino poaching. The accused Dr Douw Grobler, formerly head of the Kruger National Park’s wildlife capturing and veterinary services unit, private vet Dr Johannes Gerhardus Kruger, and professional hunter Hugo Ras are accused of supplying a Rhino-poaching syndicate with tranquillisers.
In March 2012, Christoffel Jacobus Lombard, Eugine Petrus van der Merwe and William Theuns Jooste were arrested and charged with possession of M99; Illegal entry upon land with a weapon; conspiracy to commit a restricted activity and fraud.
Corrupt vets, game farmers and hunters
According to Rhino Conservation; Instead of joining South Africa’s battle to protect its Rhinos, a corrupt minority of game farmers, professional hunters, and wildlife veterinarians have chosen to exchange their ethics for ill-gotten financial rewards. Indeed, this cesspool of deceit has catapulted South Africa into the unfortunate position of being the lead supplier of illegal Rhino horn for the rapacious black market.
Although hundreds of arrests have been made, South Africa’s conviction rates for Rhino crimes remain deplorably low across the board – consistently less than five percent and even as low as 2.6% in 2010.
And despite indications unethical members of the conservation field are contributing to the carnage, only five percent of the summed 397 rhino-related arrests made in South Africa between 2010 and 2011 (as reported by the World Wildlife Fund) were white and not black Africans. The belief that black Africans are again all to blame for poaching of which see’s many racist comments on our articles must stop now. The evidence is clear today as it was two years ago.
Many surveys have been carried out in China, Laos and Vietnam focusing on who exactly is using Rhino horn. Today we can state that Rhino horn is not necessarily used as a fake medicine anymore for male libido problems. Back in 2013 we visited Saigon of which Rhino horn was seen to be crushed down with Viagra added to the horn. This obviously creates a false sense of belief that Rhino horn does indeed cure libido problems. If this was of course so true then we question why Pfizer still has yet to produce Rhino horn as medication?
Once the Rhino is poached in Africa the courier will illegally traffic the horn from Africa into Asia. Once inside of Asia the horn is then cut into medium size pieces or is left intact for individual buyers that purchase Rhino horn token to show his or her family and friends how wealthy they are.
According to traditional Chinese texts, such as Li Shih-chen’s 1597 medical text “Pen Ts’ ao Kang Mu”, Rhino horn has been used in Chinese medicine for more than 2000 years and is used to treat fever, rheumatism, gout, and other disorders. It also states that the horn could also cure snakebites, hallucinations, typhoid, headaches, carbuncles, vomiting, food poisoning, and “devil possession.” (However, it is not, as commonly believed, prescribed as an aphrodisiac). Rhino horn, is shaved or ground into a powder and dissolved in boiling water and consumed by the patient.
Rhino horn doesn’t have any medicinal benefit whatsoever, but it is a testimony to the power of tradition that millions of people believe that it does. Of course, if people want to believe in prayer, acupuncture or voodoo as a cure for what ails them, there is no reason why they shouldn’t, but if animals are being killed to provide nostrums that have been shown to be useless, then there is a very good reason to curtail the use of Rhino horn.
There is a belief in the West that Rhino horn is used as an aphrodisiac and sexual stimulant but this is not correct and seems to have been misunderstood or misinterpreted by Western media. However, research has shown that people in Vietnam are starting to believe this rumor as they are consuming it for new reasons.
Even without aphrodisiacal properties, however, Rhino horn is one of the mainstays of TCM, and its collection has been responsible for the death of tens of thousands of Rhinos around the world.
Make no mistake: those people who use Rhino horn to cure medical ailments really believe it works. That’s what drives up the demand on which the poachers thrive. As Ann and Steve Toon commented in 2002, “For practitioners of traditional Asian medicine, Rhino horn is not perceived as a frivolous love potion, but as an irreplaceable pharmaceutical necessity.”
VietNam – new uses for rhino horn
There has been a recent surge in demand for Rhino horn in Viet Nam, where it is being touted as a hangover cure and treatment for terminal illnesses plus many more uses. A survey carried out by TRAFFIC in 2013 identified that the motivation for consumers buying Rhino horn is the emotional benefits rather than medicinal, as it reaffirms their social status among their peers. Image and status is important to these consumers, they tend to be highly educated and successful people who have a powerful social network and no affinity to wildlife. Rhino horns are sometimes bought for the sole purpose of being gifted to others; to family members, business colleagues or people in positions of authority.
When the courier or if the courier successfully makes it back to anyone of the named Asian counties highly organised traders then cut the horn the distribute selling at high prices. Normally a Rhino horn can sell for as much as $70,000USD per KILO! Once sold the user as seen in picture three will use the Rhino horn for many reasons. Hospitals/Medical Practitioners also use Rhino horn although to what extent is really not known.
As strange it may read-Rhino-horn can and still is being produced using high quality resins of which originate from Eastern Europe. The Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species wild flora and fauna and law enforcement are investigating the production of such resins and where they are originating from. Problem is whom is producing them and making “very high quality fake plastic looking horns” that have increased the trade in “real Rhino horn” via the loss of thousands from the main buyers that believe the horn they are purchasing is the real deal.
International Animal Rescue Foundation Africa and Environmental News and Medias investigative journalists and environmental team have been searching in vain the producers of these quality resins in an attempt to arrest and convict these criminals. While the trade in Rhino horn is banned so too is the trade in “counterfeit horn production”. The reasons behind this is because fake trade can heavily impact Rhino poaching more. If a buyer purchases from a peddler what they believe is “real Rhino horn” at the price of say $60,000 a kilogram that then finds out they have been ripped off the buyer will want compensating and sadly this is yet another dark area that is continuing the demand for the real Rhino horn that unfortunately sees more Rhino poached. Read more below via press reports.
Rhino horn Scam – Professional Hunters and Eastern European Gangs;
Rhino horn smugglers are now making very high quality fake horns, allowing unscrupulous hunters to sell the real horns at a huge mark-up to black market dealers for traditional medicine and status symbols. The fake horns are made with top quality resins and look so authentic that they are almost impossible to distinguish from the real thing, a report presented back in 2012 to members of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) says.
The report, presented to the convention’s standing committee in Geneva, says Cites officials have been alerted to the increasing involvement of professional hunters in the illegal Rhino horn trade.
“Trophies are exported to hunters after a legal hunt, but once the hunters have received the trophies in their home countries, the original Rhino horns are removed from the trophies and replaced with fake horns.”
Cites did not specify in which country the fake horns were being made and sold, but details in the report point to the possible involvement of either American or European hunters in the fake horn scam.
Earlier that year in 2012, wildlife investigators in the US arrested several American and Vietnamese nationals in a major bust in several cities across the US following the seizure of numerous Rhino horns, some of which were suspected to have originated from legal rhino hunts in SA and other parts of the continent.
There have also been a series of robberies from museums and private collections across Europe over the past two years in which the horns were stolen from mounted Rhino head trophies.
“The fake horns were initially made with a mould and were relatively easy to identify, but recent reports from authorities indicate that fake horns encountered lately are made in high-quality resin with a density even higher than that of a real horn.
Can you tell the real Rhino horn from the Fake?
“This makes visual identification, once fully mounted, extremely difficult.”
But Cites officials have now found a way to smoke out the culprits. “Fake horns can, however, be identified relatively easily by collecting and burning a small quantity of dust from the horn, which will deliver a distinctive smell indicating that it is not Rhinoceros horn.
“In the light of this new trend, it is of extreme importance that Cites parties should have adequate legislation and enforcement controls in place, to prevent horns that are part of legal exported trophies from being used for purposes other than hunting trophies, and to ensure that the trophies remain in possession of their owners.”
Another possible source of the fake horns could be in Vietnam, which has been implicated as the end destination of dozens of SA Rhinos shot legally by Vietnamese poachers posing as bona fide trophy hunters. (Hunting permits issued to Vietnamese hunters have since been banned) however as explained above legal pseudo hunting is continuing and the DEA is doing little if anything to prevent it even though they know whom is travelling to South Africa with a permit.
The report notes that Vietnamese authorities had pledged to conduct a stock-taking exercise to check whether SA Rhino trophy horns were still in the possession of Vietnamese hunters. (The Vietnamese government and law enforcement has still not kept to this agreement and only checked a mere handful of hunters that had hunted Rhino within South Africa)…
“It is vital for the authorities in Vietnam to conclude this activity as a matter of urgency and to investigate fully all incidents where trophies are no longer in possession of the hunters. Such follow-up investigations can provide important information on the identity of the driving force behind the trafficking of Rhino horn.” People who no longer had their horn trophies should be able to tell investigators who the horns had be sold to.
The information above is one of International Animal Rescue Foundation’s most detailed reports on poaching, demand, trade corruption and end users to scamming networks too. The report above compiled by ourselves and some third parties really does show the seriousness of Rhino or any poaching. When we read many people commenting stating such things as “why have you not stopped the poaching yet” then please do understand that poaching is just the tip of a very large ice-burg. There are many people from all walks of life involved in poaching and trafficking of which stopping them is proving to be more of a headache than the public could possibly ever imagine. When we say trade and poaching is big business we mean it. The cobweb trade as we call it spans many countries involving people that could be living next door to you or just a few blocks away. This is how serious the trade is.
From legal hunters to rangers to traffickers and even British and Irish travelling gypsies we have more than a brick wall to break down here and while we are all fighting to brake this wall down we are sadly losing our Rhino at an unprecedented rate. We have predicted that by the end of September the Rhino poaching death toll could be as high as 900+. No more can we say that 2-3 Rhino a day are being poached. Unfortunately we now see both Rhino and Elephants at “tipping point” meaning that both species cannot any longer produce enough young to keep up with high poaching levels. Coupled with this and the many different people involved we ourselves cannot any longer state that our Rhino is safe. It is with a deep heart that with the vast evidence we hold on file and poaching figures set to rise by over 200% the next year it is highly possible that we will lose the Rhino. International Animal Rescue Foundation Africa has been for the past three years proposing a complete ban on all Rhino hunting in Africa with immediate effect, sanctions to be implemented against user countries, poaching to be classed as a domestic terrorist threat and finally the White Rhino to be re-categorized as “endangered”. Failing this we are certain that the Rhino will be extinct within under ten years.
Thank you for reading.
Dr Josa C. Depre
Environmental Scientist and Botanist
The video below depicts how our African and Asian Rhinos are left after a poaching incident.