Rhino populations have been decimated by the demand for rhino horn in traditional Chinese medicine. Now a report suggests that there is a new market to drive poaching.
Long threatened by the belief that rhino horns cure an assortment of ailments, Africa's rhino populations are now threatened by a demand in Vietnam and China for jewellery made out of the horn.
A report released in South Africa's capital city of Pretoria on Monday by The Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network (TRAFFIC) reveals that criminal networks are processing the horns of poached rhinos into beads, bracelets, bangles and powder to evade detection and provide ready-made products to consumers in Asia, mainly in Vietnam and China.
Pendants, Powder and Pathways—A rapid assessment of smuggling routes and techniques used in the illicit trade in African rhino horn, details cases in which South African police have found small workshops where the horns are being processed.
TRAFFIC spokesman Richard Thomas said: "These are for sale. The market is morphing and it [rhino horn] is in demand as a luxury item."
Most of the rhino poaching in the past has been driven by the perceived medicinal benefits of the horn, despite the fact that scientific studies have revealed that it is made up of nothing more than keratin.
Keratin is found in most animals and humans. It is the same material found in human fingernails and hair.
According to TRAFFIC more than 7,100 rhinos have been killed for their horns in Africa over the past decade.
“The domestic manufacture of rhino horn products by criminal networks in Southern Africa is likely to pose significant challenges to already over-stretched law enforcement efforts along the illicit supply chain from Africa to Asia,” said Julian Rademeyer, a project leader with TRAFFIC.
South Africa is home to 79 percent of Africa’s last remaining rhinos and as such has seen the brunt of poaching. The largest population of rhinos, in the country's well-known Kruger National Park, has been in decline — directly attributed to poaching.