Top of the conference agenda: The last chance to save the rhino

With illegal trade in rhinos and elephants soaring, East Asian countries are under pressure to cut demand

A A A

The poaching crisis now engulfing Africa’s rhinos and elephants will be top of the agenda at one of the world’s major conservation conferences next week – with a global appeal to Vietnam and China.

At the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) in Bangkok, leading states including Britain will be putting pressure on the two Asian countries to curb their domestic demand for illegal rhino horn and ivory, which is driving the illegal killing of Africa’s biggest “big beasts” to unprecedented new levels.

Last year a record 668 rhinos were poached in South Africa alone – nearly 50 per cent up from the 448 animals lost to poachers in 2011, and the mere 13 in 2007 – while global seizures of illegal ivory, at 34 tonnes, were 50 per cent higher than the previous record of 23 tonnes set in 2011.

At roughly one tonne of tusks to 10 elephants, this is well over 300 animals wiped out, but the true figure across Africa, especially in Central Africa where forest elephant populations are now being threatened with extinction, is thought to be very much higher.

The elephant slaughter is being driven by demand for carved ivory products from the burgeoning Chinese middle class, and the rhino killings by an explosive appetite for rhino horn by practitioners of traditional Asian medicine in Vietnam.

The latter is based on an urban myth of a Vietnamese politician (whom no one can name) alleged to have had his cancer cured by ingesting powdered rhino horn. Although the story is baseless, it has driven the black market price of rhino horn to $65,000 per kilo (£43,000), which is greater than the price of gold, and sparked the poaching frenzy.

At the Bangkok conference, which begins on Monday, Vietnam will be offered a comprehensive demand-reduction strategy for illegal rhino horn, which has been drawn up by a group from the Cites Standing Committee, chaired by Britain, and which focuses on public awareness. Similar suggestions will be offered to China about reducing the size of the massive illegal ivory market (made more complicated by the fact that there is also a legal ivory market in the country).

This week Britain’s Wildlife minister, Richard Benyon, spoke unambiguously about the need for Vietnam and China to take action at home. Asked how the current poaching crisis could be addressed, he said: “It can be reduced by tackling illegality in the supply chain, and on the front line of poaching, but ultimately for it to succeed, it requires in-country activities by these two countries.”

He went on: “Where there is a culture of giving gifts, such as the ivory stamps which are part of old Chinese culture, they need to understand the impact this is having thousands of miles away. And in Vietnam, it requires changing a culture where people are giving each other small amounts of rhino horn as a present. It is seen as being a miracle cure for certain serious illnesses but we know it has no more healing properties than our fingernails – it is the same material, keratin.”

Britain wanted to see a package of measures agreed at Bangkok which would include the adoption of demand-reduction strategies by the key countries, he said.

“We want these countries to toughen their domestic legislation and the control of internal markets, and there has to be a mechanism within the international community to act, if countries fail to do that.”

A crucial aspect of Cites is that it is a trade agreement – and if nations fall foul of it or fail to meet their obligations, trade sanctions could be imposed.

This means Vietnam or China might be forbidden from exporting or importing items covered by the convention, and in the case of some rare and extremely valuable tropical timbers, for example,  this might run into hundreds of millions of pounds.

The scale of rhino deaths

In South Africa alone, 633 rhinos were killed in 2012. This compares with an average poaching rate of 12 animals per year across the country between 2000 and 2007. Since then the average annual figures have shot up at an astonishing rate, going from 13 in 2007 to 83 in 2008, 122 in 2009, 333 in 2010 and 448 in 2011. South Africa has about 20,000 rhinos, or 80 per cent of all the rhinos in Africa.

Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people'When I see people who look totally different, it brings me back to that time in my life'
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
News
Russell Brand has written a book of political analysis called Revolution
peopleFilm star says he is 'not interested in making money anymore'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites those Star Wars rumours
Sport
footballAccording to revelations from Sergio Aguero's new biography
News
news
News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Life and Style
Meow! ... Again, Kim Kardashian goes for a sexy Halloween costume, wrapping her body with a latex catsuit and high heeled knee boots
fashionFrom Heidi Klum to Kim Kardashian
News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

Extras
indybest
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
booksChristmas comes early for wizard fans
Arts and Entertainment
filmsOculus Rift offers breathtakingly realistic simulation of zero gravity
Life and Style
tech

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker