Whether Thandi and her new calf will be enduring symbols of survival or merely a blip of good news in the tragic war against brutal rhino poaching has yet to be seen. Despite hundreds of South African National Defence Force troops and sophisticated drone technology being deployed to intercept poachers in South Africa’s parks, numbers of dead rhino continue to increase. A record 1,215 rhinos were illegally killed in that country last year, up from 1,004 in 2013 and 668 in 2012. The high prices paid for rhino horn on black markets in China and Vietnam are financing corruption and sophisticated international criminal networks that are very difficult to defeat as we have in the “war on drugs.”
A precipitous spike in rhino and elephant poaching has dominated environmental news headlines in recent weeks, with record numbers of rhinos killed in South Africa last year and sting operations in multiple African nations uncovering elephant ivory bound for Asian markets.
But look closer at the coverage, and you may also read about one obscure animal equally imperiled by the illegal wildlife trade — and a fraction the physical size of these megafauna.
Poachers killed a record number of rhinos in South Africa last year, according to government figures released Thursday (January 22). A total of 1,215 rhinos were poached in 2014 — ten times the number killed in 2009. During the first three weeks of 2015, 49 rhinos have already been poached in South Africa.
Although rhinos were recovering in Africa since 1993, increasing demand across China and Vietnam in recent years is reversing that trend. Belief in its purported health benefits, including treatment for cancer, fever reduction and other health problems, remains relatively high in Vietnam, despite the fact that rhino horn is composed of compressed hair and keratin, the same protein found in fingernails.
Two weeks into 2015, it's already proving to be a promising year for combatting the illegal ivory trade on the West Coast. Just days after California lawmakers introduced a bill to close illegal ivory loopholes in the state, Washington state has now followed suit with bipartisan legislation unveiled Wednesday (January 14).
The new bill, co-sponsored by State Reps. Eric Pettigrew (D), Vincent Buys (R) and Joe Fitzgibbon (D), prohibits the sale, purchase and trafficking of elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn. Exemptions include antiques verified to be at least 100 years old and musical instruments manufactured before 1976.