Britain urges Asia to act over surging trade in rhinoceros horn

Belief it can cure cancer has led to a huge rise in poaching of endangered animals

A A A

Britain is to ask China, Vietnam and other Asian countries to tell their citizens that rhino horn has no medicinal value, in an attempt to halt a wave of rhino poaching that may drive the endangered animals to extinction.

Although long known as a powdered ingredient in traditional Asian medicine, a recent belief in its power to cure cancer has seen prices for rhino horn surge to £50,000 a kilogram – more than the price of gold or cocaine.

The sky-high price has sparked a spate of museum burglaries in Britain and Europe, with mounted rhino trophy heads being targeted for the value of the horn. More significantly, it has directly produced a substantial surge in rhino poaching in southern Africa.

Between 2000 and 2007, South Africa saw about 12 rhinos poached each year, but by 2010 it had reached 333. This year, more than 200 have already been killed and conservationists are increasingly alarmed about the future of the species, with most of its populations already classified as critically endangered.

Now Britain is putting forward a request on behalf of the European Union for Asian nations to mount "appropriately targeted" awareness-raising campaigns for their citizens, highlighting the lack of evidence in support of the horn's alleged medicinal properties. British officials will speak at a week-long meeting, beginning in Geneva today, of the committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

"The demand for rhino horn in traditional Asian medicine is driving a new wave of poaching and the decline of rhino populations," Richard Benyon, the UK Wildlife minister, said. "The price is now very high. But rhino horn is basically keratin, which is the same stuff as our hair and fingernails, and it has no healing properties.

"The world community cannot sit back and just watch these species disappear, and we want to help debunk the myth of rhino horn's healing powers."

Mr Benyon denied the request would be seen as interfering in the internal affairs of countries such as China and Vietnam. "I don't think it is preachy – it's just asking these counties to recognise that there is a problem within their borders," he said.

The proposal, which Britain sponsored through the EU, also asks all member states of Cites to tighten up controls on the trade in rhino horn and seeks the establishment of a working group to make recommendations for the next full meeting of Cites in two years.

Commerce in the world's five species of rhino – white, black, Indian, Javan and Sumatran – is banned by Cites, except for populations of the southern white rhino in South Africa and Swaziland, whose products can legally be traded with permits. It is possible the next Cites meeting will change this.

Traditional Asian medicine has been blamed for forcing the decline of other endangered species through poaching, notably the tiger, whose body parts are prized.

The demand for rhino horn is based on what is considered a modern urban myth, widely circulating in Asia – that a senior politician in Vietnam who was allegedly dying of liver cancer was cured after taking a dose of powdered rhino horn.

Although the story is frequently repeated, no one can actually put a name to the politician, supposed to be a former Vietnamese prime minister. Yet this has not stopped it from driving the price to unprecedented levels.

Britain tightened its own regulations on the export of rhinoceros horn last year after wildlife-trade officials noticed that horn and other rhino products – such as antique trophy heads – were beginning to fetch huge sums at auction and were often being re-exported to the Far East.

Now it is virtually impossible to get a permit to export rhino horn from Britain. Earlier this year, the Government persuaded the EU to bring in a similar tightening of regulations across its 27 member states.

Yet, at the same time, a series of targeted burglaries began in museums holding rhino heads in Britain and in continental Europe. Last month burglars broke into Ipswich Museum and sawed off the 18in horn of Rosie, the head of an Indian rhino that had been there since 1907.

In February, the mounted head of a black rhino was taken from Sworders Fine Art Auctioneers in Stansted Mountfitchet, Essex. And in May a similar head was taken from the Educational Museum in Haslemere, Surrey.

In Belgium, there have been three such raids on museums in less than two months, the most recent being 10 days ago at the Africa Museum in Namur.

Rhinos at risk

There are five species of rhinoceros. All except the southern species of the white rhino are regarded as threatened.

* The white rhino (Ceratotherium simum) is split between two sub-species. The southern white is the most abundant type, with more than 17,000 known worldwide, of which the majority are in South Africa. By contrast, the northern white rhino is probably extinct in the wild; four were last seen in 2006 in the Democratic Republic of Congo but no further signs have been seen since then, despite intensive surveys. A small number of the animals survive in captivity.

* The black rhino (Diceros bicornis), which is found in southern Africa, is listed as critically endangered; about 5,000 remain.

* The great Indian rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis) is found only in India, Bhutan, Burma and Nepal and is listed as 'vulnerable'; fewer than 3,000 remain.

* The Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) is found only in Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam and is listed as critically endangered; perhaps fewer than 300 animals remain.

* The Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus) is found only in Indonesia and Malaysia, is critically endangered and is perhaps the rarest large mammal on earth, with fewer than 50 of the creatures remaining.

News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the iWatch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
News
Astronauts could be kept asleep for days or even weeks
scienceScientists are looking for a way to keep astronauts in a sleeplike state for days or weeks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own