Posts Tagged With: illegal trade

The History of Rhino Poaching

To think an animal’s body part is worth its weight in gold is mind-blowing to say the least. So how did this lucrative practice begin? Who decided a rhinoceros horn is the key to solving all ailments?

17th century rhino horn cups

17th century Chinese cups carved from rhino horn

In Greek mythology, rhino horns were said to possess the ability to purify water. The Persians from the 5th century BC used carved vessels from horn to detect poisoned liquids. This belief stuck and existed well into the 18th and 19th centuries among European royalty.

Between  100 BC and 200 AD during the Ming and Ching dynasties, the Chinese thought the same. They used the horn in carvings of plates, bowls and cups. The cups being especially prized to detect alkaloid poisoning, something that was treacherously common at the time.


Traditional Yemen dagger

Reports of Yemens’ use of the horn dates back to the 8th century. Although their fondness of horn is preferred in decorative use as opposed to medicinal. It is fashioned into ceremonial dagger handles known as jambiyas . This is a status symbol for young men. It epitomizes manhood. The quality of the horn was important because it possesses a translucent quality, that only improves with age.

The use of the horn for medicinal purposes was recorded as early as 1597, in the Chinese “Pen Ts’ao Kang Mu”.  In it there are mentions such as “the best horn is from a freshly killed male” and “pregnant women should not take horn as it will kill the foetus”. It also lists the many uses of horn ranging from stopping nightmares and curing possessions to curing headaches and dissolving phlegm.

rhino horn medicine

Chinese “medicine” made from horn

In earlier time it was not just the horn, but also blood, and urine used for medicine. This was a commonality of the Chinese, Burmese, Thai, and Nepalis.

In the early 1980s, it was even used as an aphrodisiac by the people of India. This myth probably stems from the fact that breeding pairs stay together for two to three days, and sometimes even weeks. Mating takes place several times a day and lasts for an hour or more at a time.

rhinos mating 2The earliest reports of horn trade (in addition to tortoise shell and ivory) were reported as leaving ancient East Africa for Arabia in 50 AD.

Throughout the history of trade, various countries have been involved: Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Yemen, China, Hong Kong, Sumatra, Singapore, Thailand, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa are the most prominent. Various efforts have been made in these countries to legalize and/or ban the trade as well.

What is the most interesting point in the history of the horn trade is that during times horn could be legally traded, illegal trade still flourished.

Thirty species of rhino once roamed the planet. Now  thousands of years later, there remain just five. Human greed, consumption and ignorance have cost the rhino. They are teetering on the brink of extinction. Will history teach us nothing?

rhino cave painting

Chauvet cave, France- rhino cave painting dating back 30,000 BP (before present time recordings).

Information obtained from TRAFFIC and Richard Ellis: Poaching for Traditional Chinese Medicine

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Talk Radio Europe Interview

Just last Friday, April 3rd I was asked by the lovely Pippa Jones of Talk Radio Europe to come on her radio show to once again speak about the plight of the rhino and the connection we as humans on this planet have with this beautiful animal.

Please take the time and click on the Radio Mp3 Link below to hear the full interview.  ( you should be able to forward past the commercials and song to get to the interview)  It  starts at about 11 minutes in.   I hope you find it informative.





Pippa has  been in producing and presenting her own programmes  for 3 years but Talk Radio was always a medium that inspired her. In no small part because she questions and challenges everything, and her show, Radio Jones, on Talk Radio Europe allows her the opportunity to question guests and experts on an array of hard-hitting issues that otherwise she would not find the answers to. Pippa is passionate about challenging complacency and this is what drives her.

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The Nightmare Continues

600 poachedTragically, still four and a half months til the end of the year….

Interestingly-there is a dispute in the precise number-somewhere between 592-600. Either way-too many 😦

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Urgent: Crushing Blow to the Rhino!


Plan to trade rhino horns on JSE


Manager for the Department of Enviromental Affairs Mavuso Msimang speaks at the launch of the latest report. Picture: Dumisani Sibeko

Durban – The government has baulked at the massive cost of dehorning up to 10 000 rhinos to slow down the rate of poaching – but is looking into a separate plan to trade rhino horn on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

It has also emerged that South Africa may apply for special permission to hold two rhino horn auctions within the next year, instead of waiting another three years for the next meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

Earlier this week, the Department of Environmental Affairs released the recommendations of the Rhino Issues Management (RIM) report which calls for the immediate dehorning of thousands of rhino in national parks.

Written by former SA National Parks chief executive Mavuso Msimang, the report argues that dehorning large numbers of rhino would demonstrate South Africa’s international commitment to preserving the species from possible extinction due to the increase in rhino poaching over the past five years.

Msimang noted that de-horning would be “extremely costly” and would have to be repeated every two to three years, as horns regrew at the rate of about 5cm every year.

“To dehorn 10 000 rhino at a rate of eight rhino per day will take approximately 1 000 days (almost three years) and cost in the region of R84 million,” says the report, noting that it costs about R8 000 to dehorn each rhino, to take DNA samples and insert microchips into the horn.

Despite record poaching levels, South Africa still has about 19 000 white rhino and 2 000 black rhino (which together account for nearly 75 percent of the global rhino population or 83 percent of the African rhino population).

The report acknowledges that male and female rhino use their horns for defence, while black rhino sometimes use their front horns to pull down branches to browse – but suggests that some of the potential problems could be avoided if all males in the same area were dehorned simultaneously.

However, the government made it clear this week that de-horning was a non-starter for now – except in smaller reserves.

Citing the results of a specialist study, senior Department of Environmental Affairs official Thea Carroll said de-horning was seen as a viable option for only small rhino populations because of the major and repeated expenses of dehorning large numbers of rhino in expansive areas such as Kruger National Park or Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park.

In a separate recommendation, Msimang urged the government to consider opening a rhino trading bourse possibly linked to the JSE.

The bourse could be run by a board of directors or a trust drawn from the public/private sector and civil society, generating income to offset the costs of keeping and protecting rhinos.

In her response, Carroll did not rule out this suggestion completely and said the feasibility would have to be investigated in collaboration with the Treasury and other relevant organisations.

Nevertheless, it seems highly unlikely that investors could be persuaded to trade horns until Cites makes a ruling on South Africa’s controversial proposal to end the 36-year-old world ban on international rhino product trading.

South Africa is expected to submit a formal proposal to the next Cites meeting, which will be held in South Africa in 2016.

But Msimang’s report, based on a series of workshops and meetings held last year, noted that South Africa might not have to wait so long to submit its trading proposal.

He said that although such proposals were normally considered at Cites meetings held every three years, there was a special provision under article 27 of the Cites rules which allowed for interim applications to be made in-between these triennial meetings.

The Rhino Issues Management report also recommends that the government lifts the moratorium on domestic rhino horn sales because it has had the unintended consequence of pushing up poaching levels by starving the illegal black market of horns. – The Mercury

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Old McChina Had a Farm

If you needed a way to get milk, but weren’t allowed to legally purchase it, what would you do? Why-buy the cow of course!milking the rhino

This is essentially what China has done with the rhino. To get around CITES, and the illegal trade of rhino horn, they have started rhino farming.

In 2011, TIME magazine reported China’s initial undertaking of establishing a breeding colony of African Rhinos in order to harvest horn. Their investigation found that a Chinese arms company – the Hawk Group –  had imported 60 rhino from South Africa to a park called Africa View in the Hainan Province of China. (This was a year AFTER China assured CITES they had no intention of farming rhinos.)

They also found the subsidiary company had developed a device that could scrape rhino horn. Plans were in place to produce 500,000 detox pills made from rhino horn. Projected sales from the rhino horn were $60 million a year.

Between 2007 and 2012, there were 150 rhino exported into China.

Initially African View Park was touted as a tourist destination, a guise to conceal the true purpose of the facility, although the lovely “view” was of row upon row of concrete enclosures filled with rhino.  It is now referred to as the Sanya City Center for artificial propagation of the rhinoceros.

The newest development at the facility is China’s announcement it will release the White Rhinos into a rainforest, undoubtedly in the name of conservation. The obvious concern is that White Rhinos who originate from Africa are not meant to forage or habitat that type of environment.

rhino under tree

According to rhino horn trade expert , Dr. Tom Milliken, “These animals will just not survive in a rainforest-type environment. We have concerns about nutrition and their overall ability to cope. If they don’t have supplementary food, they could starve. This is simply not conservation.”

Not to mention, free roaming rhino in China are about as safe as a stack of money on a park bench.

The list of animal parts China turns into traditional “medicine”, and it’s propensity to kill and use animals into near extinction is endless. (See Planet China: a world of myths and make believe) The farming of animals is nothing new (i.e. bear bile farms, tiger farming). Rhino farming was inevitable.

Is this really much different than the rhino farming in Africa? They too breed rhinos, and store the horn for the golden day of “legal trade” so they will be able to cash in, handing the horn to the Chinese and Vietnamese. For if indeed African farmers are in it only for conservation purposes, why not destroy the horn?

It’s known that South Africa advocates for legal horn trade. In a picture perfect scenario, proponents of  legal trade believe that by shaving and selling the horn it will somehow meet the demand in the Asian market, reduce poaching and save the rhino. This is a weak argument. (See Kill the Trade or Kill the Rhino)

Bear in a bear bile farm

Bear in a bear bile farm

If anyone believes this can possibly be good for the rhino, here is a report done on the bear, who are being farmed as well.

From ‘An Investigation into the Chinese Demand for Farmed vs. Wild Bear Bile’  The report concludes that “the ability of

farmedbear bile to reduce demand for wild bear bile is at best limited and, at prevailing prices, may be close to zero or have the opposite effect.” They go on to say that “for the wildlife farming debate this indicates that at some prices the introduction of farmed competition might increase the demand for the wild product.”

Since this has been in the public eye, the South African Government has put restrictions on releasing more rhino to the Chinese developer in charge of the facility, who was in negotiation to receive 30 more rhino.

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Mixed Messages on Worldwide Wildlife Trafficking

TOP 5  Illegal Activities in the World:

2)Human Trafficking
5)Wildlife Trafficking

Finally someone has brought serious attention to the public eye on the lucrative illegal wildlife trade, the 5th biggest avenue of corruption and criminal activity in the world. Upon his visit to parts of Africa, President Obama announced his wildlife initiative plan.


Obama’s new campaign to fight wildlife trafficking includes an executive order, $10 million in funding, a task force and a presidential advisoryobama wildlife init council. The campaign will focus on helping affected countries establish and enforce better trafficking laws;, supporting regional cooperation; training their police and rangers; and beefing up their law enforcement and intelligence-gathering capacities. It will also use a new “Transnational Organized Crime Rewards Program” to offer bounties for poachers and push for more modern technologies to identify and capture them.

The issue has also been presented with China in an effort to address the demand side of the trade in animal parts, primarily rhino and elephant. Both President Obama and former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton have discussed this with them.


It means the U.S is publicly going on record to show no tolerance for the continued decimation of  animals on our planet, as well as putting emphasis on the seriousness of the criminal syndicate. Now valued between $7 billion to $10 billion a year, the lucrative trade funds many  corrupt operations i.e. drugs, human trafficking, weapons, and gang activity.

The U.S is  second only to China in partaking in the black market of wildlife trade. This admittance and commitment will step up regulations here, as well as setting the bar for the rest of the world.

The President stated “The survival of protected wildlife species … has beneficial economic, social, and environmental impacts that are important to all nations. Wildlife trafficking reduces those benefits while generating billions of dollars in illicit revenues each year, contributing to the illegal economy, fueling instability, and undermining security.”

The Philippines Contribution

In a monumental move to battle the illegal wildlife trade, the Philippines were the first Asian country to publicly destroy it’s stockpile of ivory. On Friday it started the destruction of 5 tons of seized ivory.A road roller crushes smuggled elephant tusks at the Parks and Wildlife center in Quezon City

Ramon Paje, Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said “The Philippines will not be a party to the massacre and we refuse to be a conduit to this cycle of killing,”

Although on the surface, they are sending a strong message, according to DENR’s Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau, there are still 8 tons unaccounted for. There is currently an investigation to determine its whereabouts.

What about South Africa?

Shortly after Obama’s’ visit, South Africa announced plans for a one-time selling of its stockpile of ivory. Ironic this should come on the heels of the President’s visit. The debate on legal horn trade rages on, but the timing of this decision seems to undermine the seriousness and conviction of the statement from the U.S.

With the U.S. and even the Philippines stepping up,  it seems momentum is on the side of wildlife. So why wouldn’t S.A. simply destroy theirs as well?

History has proven legal trade does NOT work. In 2008 the ban was lifted on ivory, which opened the flood gates and escalated elephant poaching , which they are still being massacred for.  Repeating this for the rhino would be the same disaster.

no to trade

Please let your voice be heard.  South Africa’s move toward petitioning CITES to legalize the rhino horn trade will decimate the species..    

Please write! #-SayNoToRhinoHornTrade

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Leonardo DiCaprio: Taking up the War on Poaching

We know him from “Titanic”, “Shutter Island” and recently “The Great Gatsby”. But Leonardo DiCaprio has taken on an even bigger role: wildlife and environmental advocate. He has been raising awareness and tackling issues from climate change to rhino and elephant poaching for about 15 years.

In 1998 he started the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which focuses on wildlife and habitat preservation, healthy oceans, climate leochange and disaster relief. Through the foundation, he is involved in grant making, campaigning and media projects. He encourages collaboration between organizations and other celebrities. In 2007 he co-produced “The 11th Hour”, a short film bringing attention to the state of the environment.

 In a 2008 interview DiCaprio stated “We need to be the ones to set an example for the rest of the world. We are  the leading consumers, the biggest producers of waste around the world and,  unless we’re the ones to set an example for less industrialized countries, how  is the rest of the world going to follow? If you’d ask any environmentalist  about George Bush’s policies on the environment, he gets close to an F.”

In addition, he in involved on the board for the WWF (World Wildlife Foundation), and for the IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare).

Recently he, along with Edward Norton and Mark Hoppus (Blink 182) participated in a Twitter storm to spread the word about rhino and elephant poaching. Their combined efforts helped the Zoological Society of London to win the Google Global Impact award. The $500,000 grant will plant cameras with sensors in the poaching hotspots across parts of South Africa. The prediction is with the cameras, poaching in Tsavo National Park alone will be reduced by 50% in two years.

leo quote

DiCaprio was recently greenlighted to do two separate films with Tobey Maguire and Tom Hardy; one will take on poaching. The anti-poaching drama will be similar to “Traffic”, showing multiple characters and storylines showing the impact of poaching, from the ground war in Africa to animal material being used in fashion houses in Paris. The other film will focus on illegal animal smuggling in Africa.

“It’s interesting because, all this inevitably boils down to a publicity game  for the planet and what’s good for the place we live in.”

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A Hope and A Prayer

So much of the future for rhinos, elephants, and other creatures are being decided right now. The critical CITES meetings are taking place March 3-14. Within days, decisions will be made that could  give us hope or spell disaster for the remaining elephants and rhinos.

CITES-Convention on International Trade of Wild Fauna and Flora-is essentially an international agreement between governments. The aim is to ensure international trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Started in 1975, there are currently 177 parties involved in this group including China, Thailand, Vietnam and the US.

One of the current issues they will be deciding is whether or not to ban all ivory trade, the other is on legalising the trade of rhino horn. Both species are in grave danger of being overpoached and these decisions weigh heavily on their future.

Unfortunately this is not the first time the issues have come to the attention of CITES. In 1989 the ban on all ivory trading was put into effect. The ban instigated stronger enforcement efforts, nearly halting poaching altogether. However, within 4 years after it was enacted western aid was withdrawn, the issue seemed to be nonexistent,  and everyone dropped their guard.  Now poaching has made an alarming comeback. There are approximately 300,000 elephants killed per year.

The scenario is the same for the rhino. A ban on rhino horn trade was enacted in 1977, only to become a wildly out of control problem to the devastating amount of 668 rhinos poached in South Africa alone all of last year.

CITES controls are easily evaded. Only 16 of the 35 African parties have complied with the ivory trade.  It is  laundered through legitimate CITES channels with no consequence.

I recently read a suggestion that if there was an Axis of Evil in Wildlife Conservation , it would include the following: China, Vietnam, Philippines, Laos, Thailand, Qatar, Mozambique, Tanzania and S. Africa. Interestingly all but Laos and Tanzania are member of CITES. The obvious question is “How much of a benefit is there to CITES?”

CITES funds are replenished by the 177 parties. When attempting to access the status of contributions and unpaid parties, the information “could not be given”. So its unclear how much finances steer the decisions that are being made. However its hard to ignore the possibility of corruption when the group is made of governments filled with biased intentions.

However things turn out, the cold reality is this; among the  70 proposals at the current convention, 10 are recommendations that species be removed from CITES protection due to the fact they are already extinct.


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