Reuters has reported that the increased demand for ivory and rhino horns in Asia (for gifts and hangover cures) is resulting in a poaching boom and officials are calling for stiffer penalties for traffickers to curb that trend.
Officials at a United Nations conference in Vienna, wildlife crime and illegal forestry is the fourth largest crime in the world after drugs, arms, and human beings. In fact, The World Wildlife Fund has estimated that this niche of crime—which includes the poaching of rhinoceros and elephants and large cats—is worth $17 billion a year.
The UNODC, however, estimates a much larger value, with the trade in the Asia and the Pacific region alone having a total value of some $19.5 billion for the illegal trade in wildlife and wood-based products.South Africa, home to the largest population of rhinos, is on pace to lose 812 of the animals this year. Poachers sell the horn to crime syndicates to feed swelling demand in Asia, where the horn is thought to cure cancer and have other health benefits.Horns are sold to the newly affluent at pharmacies in places like Hanoi at prices higher than gold.
“China and Southeast Asia are the biggest destinations of these illegal products, but not because of the traditional medical uses,” said John Scanlon, director-general of the Geneva-based Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). “Growing uses in Asia include the giving of ivory as a high-value gift, drinking of rhino horn wine, and rhino horn as an aphrodisiac, a cure for cancer, and hangovers.”
“Traditional Chinese medical practitioners have actually discouraged its use for conservatory reasons,” he added.
Yury Fedotov, head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, has demanded on increased penalties for illegal traders and has called on member states to implement the change. Fedotov has acknowledged that exporting countries need increased enforcement but has also said that those who import the materials—and thereby create the market for such goods—need to be punished as well.
“Wildlife and forest crimes must be treated as serious crimes with minimum punishments of four years or more so that full force of deterrence can be used against criminals,” said Fedotov. “The harder task, however, will be to curb the demand.”