Craze for Rhino Horns Grips Vietnam
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by in Wildlife


Vietnamese people have suddenly grown fond of the Rhino horn. And the obsession is such that the horn of the endangered species is selling more than some illegal drugs in that country.

Experts fear the Vietnam’s rising demand for the rhinoceros horn may wipe out the species within a few years. Already most of the rhinoceros population of the world is struggling to survive. The species recovered from the brink of extinction in 1970s when conservation efforts were elevated.

But once again illegal wildlife trade has threatened the rhino with illegal killings in Africa hitting the highest record in 2011. From 122 in 2009 to 333 in 2010 and a record 448 in 2011, the country reported last week that 150 rhinos had already been poached this year, nearly 60 per cent taken from Kruger National Park.

Currently there are only 28,000 rhinos in the wild with most in Africa.

“It’s a very dire situation,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said. “We have very little cushion for these populations in the wild.”

This week South Africa called for renewed co-operation with Vietnam after a “shocking number” of rhinos have already been reported dead this year.

But people really do not realize the true worth of the horns in their possession.

Says 24 year old Nguyen Huong Giang who received a 10cm rhino horn as a gift from her father,

“I don’t know how much it costs; I only know it’s expensive.”

In China the rhino horn has always been associated with having medicinal properties that cure a number of illnesses. The therapeutic affects have not been proven and US officials and experts believe that the rise in demand in Vietnam is partially due to these claims. It is believed that the horn cures cancer.

In Vietnam, according to conservationists it is the nouveau riche that are buying the horns as a luxury item like Gucci bags and expensive Maybach cars.

Between 2006 and 2008, three diplomats at the Vietnamese Embassy in Pretoria were linked to rhino trafficking scandals. One was found trafficking, while one was filmed trading the horns. Another was found in the possession of 18 kg of horns.

US officials also busted an interstate horn trafficking in February with high profile people in both Vietnam and America involved. Felix Kha, one of the accused in the US supposedly travelled to China 12 times between 2004 and 2011 and went to Vietnam five times last year.

“There are still horns going into China but Vietnam is driving the increase in poaching for horns,” said Chris R. Shepherd, deputy regional director for Southeast Asia at the wildlife advocacy group TRAFFIC. “Vietnamese authorities really need to step up their efforts to find out who is behind horn trafficking … and put them out of business.”

Rhino horns are being sold at a higher price than other illegal animal products such as tiger bones or bear biles. American officials say the crushed powder fetches up to $55,000 USD per kilogram in Asia price as steep as gold or the street value of cocaine in US.

The lure is so great that rhino horns are now even being stolen from European museums and taxidermy shops. Thieves are also not restraining from smashing the horns with sledgehammers before stealing them. According to Europol, the European law enforcement agency, 72 rhino horns were stolen from 15 European countries in 2011, the first year such data was recorded.

Poachers in South Africa are using much more cruel tactics to get the horn from live animals. Using chainsaws they are ripping the horn from the animal while it still alive, leaving a bloody cavity and a deeply injured animal to die.

Ironically, if carefully cut the rhino horns can grow back in two years. Some rhinos are simply being killed before their horns are taken.

Although officials and some organisations in South Africa are taking preventive measures by cutting the horns of rhinos, poachers are still after the nubs and killing the animals.

Vietnam lost its last Javan rhino in 2010. The last surviving rhino was found dead shot in the leg without its horn.

Tran Dang Trung, who manages a zoo outside Hanoi that imported four white rhinos from South Africa says, “If thieves wanted to kill the animals and steal their valuable parts, they could.”

Vietnam government has done little to stop the crime. Despite promises there are no real punishment for the traffickers and little effort to crack down the trafficking.

Officially only 60 horns may be legally brought to the country as trophies from South African game farms but unofficially the estimate is more than 100.

Last week the South African government announced that it was working closely with Vietnam in stopping the abuse of hunting permits. An inspection has also been ordered to check that the rhino trophies brought to the country, are still with the hunters and not sold illegally.

Conservationist believe that diplomats are involved in the illegal trafficking as international trade has been largely banned since 1976.

But all is not well for even those who do use the rhino horn powder as a medicine. Doctors report that some of their clients take the powder as a supplement to western medicines, believing it cures fever and other common ailments. Others use it as a last-ditch effort against cancer.

Nguyen Huu Truong, a doctor at Hanoi’s Center for Allergy Clinical Immunology, said he often got patients who had rashes after they consumed the powder.

“Many Vietnamese believe that anything expensive is good, but if you’re going to spend a lot of money on rhino horn, you might as well bite your nails,” he said. Rhino horns are composed of keratin, a protein found in human hair and fingernails.

At this rate, the abuse will only stop perhaps after all the rhinos of the world are devoid of their horns and their lives.

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About the Author

Atula is a writer, traveler and a nature-lover. She is also mom to a boy who seems to have inherited all her creative genes. When Atula is not busy making up stories with her son, she writes for numerous magazines, websites and blogs. She is also working on her site on endangered species called indiasendangered.com.

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