Rhino Poaching Hits New Record High in South Africa

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In terms of poaching, elephants had an awful year in 2011, and now we learn that the same thing can be said for rhinos.

Reuters reports that rhino poaching in South Africa increased 33% in 2011, with 443 rhinos killed and half of that poaching occurring in Kruger National Park:

The street value of rhinoceros horn has soared to about $65,000 a kilogram...as a belief—with no basis in science—has taken hold in recent years in parts of Asia that ingesting it can cure or prevent cancer.

South Africa, home to 90% of the African rhino population at about 20,000 individuals, was losing about 15 animals a year a decade ago. But poaching increased dramatically from about 2007 as a growing affluent class in places such as Vietnam and Thailand began spending more on rhino horn for traditional medicine.

I quote those two paragraphs because to the casual follower of the plight of the rhino due to poaching, and the causes of that poaching, it ands a wrinkle to the story as commonly told.

1) Though rhino horn has been removed from the official pharmacopeia of Traditional Chinese Medicine (where it had previously been prescribed for a variety of ailments, though not impotency as sometimes believed), the erroneous belief that rhino horn has anti-cancer properties is part of the reason for the rise in rhino horn prices and therefore poaching; and 2) It's not just Chinese demand, but also Vietnamese and Thai use of rhino horn. Which is all to say, contrary to the verbal finger pointing that I sometimes hear about China this and China that in regards to rhino horn or whatever endangered species (often with a very very thinly veiled bit of xenophobia underneath it all), it's a bigger issue than that, though does not let China off the hook either.

Tags: Endangered Species