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WildAid Calls for Ban on Synthetic Rhino Horn Exports

SAN FRANCISCO (February 10, 2016) — WildAid and the Center for Biological Diversity today formally petitioned the Obama administration to ban the sale and export of so-called “synthetic” rhinoceros horn. Trade in the biologically engineered faux horn could accelerate consumer demand in Asia for illegal wildlife products that has caused rhino poaching rates to skyrocket across southern Africa. 

Rhino horn is coveted by some in Vietnam and China as a status symbol and as a panacea for ailments and diseases, from hangovers to cancer. There is no scientific evidence that rhino horn has medicinal value but rhinos in Africa and Asia are gravely imperiled due to demand for their horns. Several populations have already been poached into extinction, while others, such as the northern white rhino, have dwindled to just a few individuals. Experts believe the best way to save rhinos is to reduce consumer demand for rhino horn.

The good news is that history has shown that we can beat this illicit trade: Past public campaigns against rhino horn have previously succeeded in putting pressure on nations to crack down on the trade. For example, in 1994 the Clinton administration imposed unprecedented sanctions against Taiwan for its failure to stop rhino horn sales. The international scrutiny and well-publicized penalties resulted in Taiwan stepping up enforcement against the market, which also was banned in China and other countries. The rhino horn trade collapsed until economic growth in Vietnam, coupled with new rumors of rhino horn’s anti-cancer effects, revived consumer demand. 

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Crisis Persists Despite Slight Decline in South African Rhino Poaching

Shannon Benson

South Africa’s Minister for Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, announced Thursday that 1,175 rhinos were poached in the country during 2015. This is a slight drop from 2014, when a record 1,215 poached rhinos were officially tallied, and is the first year since 2007 that has not shown an increase over the previous year. Kruger National Park, the epicenter of poaching in the region, recorded 826 rhinos illegally killed in 2015, one fewer than 2014’s total of 827.

Minister Molewa hailed the reduction as “very, very good news” and said it “offers great cause for optimism”. She attributed it particularly to the efforts of law enforcement and security agencies who, she said, had managed to avert the spike in poaching that normally occurs around December as poachers seek extra money for the Christmas holiday season. She said that South Africa’s rhino population “continues to be stable” according to the most recent census data.

South African Court Upholds Effort to Legalize Domestic Rhino Horn Trade

Investigators inspect the carcass of a poached white rhino in Kruger National Park, May 2015 (Adam Welz/WildAid)

WildAid is deeply concerned that South Africa's moratorium on domestic trade in rhino horn was effectively lifted today in a Pretoria court, on a technicality related to incorrect government procedures. 

The court rejected the government's appeal against a judge who had found that, while a ban may be prudent, the government had failed to follow its own procedures for soliciting public comment. The South African government, concerned that domestically-sold horn would leak out into the international market, had attempted — but failed — to prevent the moratorium from being lifted.

"There is little, if any, consumer demand for rhino horn within South Africa, and we agree with the government that horn sold domestically will likely be laundered into the international market, increasing the already serious threat faced by rhinos," said Peter Knights, CEO of WildAid. “We urge them to take the correct procedural measures in a timely way in order to reinstate the moratorium."

There have been persistent reports that prominent private rhino owners who contested the moratorium hope to attract east Asian citizens to South Africa to consume rhino horn in-country as a form of "medical tourism." The lifting of the domestic trade moratorium facilitates this scenario. 


Prince William Gives Historic Wildlife Address to the Chinese People

In a historic address to the Chinese people, the Duke of Cambridge (Prince William) has urged China "to turn the tide of extinction" and reject the illegal wildlife trade that's driving the slaughter of endangered species.  

"I am absolutely convinced that China can become a global leader in the protection of wildlife," Prince William said Monday in remarks to be broadcast on Chinese state TV channel CCTV1. "Your influence in the world means you can change the face of conservation in this century. This will be a contribution that would go down in history, one that your great grandchildren would speak of with great pride."

The address coincides with this week's official state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who will be a guest of Buckingham Palace for four days. "[W]e have seen a groundswell of action by governments to improve their laws and to work across borders to fight the traffickers," Prince William said. "Only last month, President Xi announced that China would take steps to halt the domestic trade in ivory, adding to the ban on ivory carving imports he announced in February. But we know the illegal wildlife trade cannot be solved by governments alone. The spotlight falls back on all of us, and on the choices we have to make to play our parts in addressing this problem."

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