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


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.

sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Rooney celebrates with striker-partner Radamel Falcao after the pair combine to put United ahead
footballManchester United vs Newcastle match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all