A rhino poaching crisis in South Africa is fed by an insatiable demand in Vietnam for the large animals' horns, which are believed to promote health, cure hangovers and even cancer, according to a new report.
In South Africa, more and more rhinos are being killed illegally. In 2007, 13 rhinos were poached, this number rose steadily to a record 448 in 2011. In early 2012, rhinos were being poached at a rate of almost two rhinos per day, and officials expect the total loss to stand at 515 by the end of this year if the rate continues, according to the report issued by TRAFFIC, a nongovernmental global network that monitors wildlife trade.
Arrests are rising too, but organized crime is involved, TRAFFIC reports. The crime syndicates involved in rhino poaching are also linked to drug and diamond smuggling, as well as human trafficking and the illegal trade in other wildlife parts, such as elephant ivory, the report says.
Vietnam provides the main market for horn. The primary users are those who believe in the horn's detoxification properties. Affluent users frequently use the horn as a hangover cure and general health tonic, grinding it up and mixing it with water or alcohol.
The horn is also sometimes marketed as a cancer cure for terminally ill patients, "a cynical marketing ploy to increase the illicit trade," according to TRAFFIC.
Poaching has already had grave consequences for rhinos. In the last decade, the western black rhino went extinct and the Indochinese Javan rhinoceros was eradicated from Vietnam, with fewer than 50 individuals remaining in Java.
The 175-nation treaty, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, makes nearly all commercial trade in rhino horns and other species threatened with extinction illegal. Signatories also committed to regulating trade within their borders.