Head of UN-backed convention urges greater effort to combat illegal rhino trade

10 November 2011

The head of the United Nations-backed convention on endangered species called today for the stepping up of efforts by countries and international organizations to combat the illegal trade in rhino horn, after a leading conservation group declared Africa’s Western Black Rhinoceros officially extinct.

“We’re extremely worried about today’s news,” said John Scanlon, Secretary-General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). “To hear about the extinction of the subspecies from West Africa is of grave concern. We have grave concern for the rhino more generally,” he told UN Television in an interview.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), declared the subspecies officially extinct today, and warned that others are also on the brink of extinction as a result of widespread poaching.

According to CITES, 330 rhinos have been killed this year, poached for their horns which are popular in medicine markets across South East Asia. Demand for the horn is at an all time high, with prices reaching more than $50,000 per kilogram.

Mr. Scanlon said a more assertive multilateral approach needs to be pursued to prosecute the organized crime groups behind this activity.

“We cannot rely upon the responses historically used. We need to involve the police, in a way that can combat criminal gangs. We need to involve world customs at a much greater level; we need to get the justice system treating illegal trade in wildlife, in particular rhino horn, as serious crime,” he said.

Mr. Scanlon said engaging with key partners is essential to tackle the issue. “We need a response which is commensurate with the scale of the risk and that’s what we think we are doing,” he said, referring to the partnerships CITES has established with organizations like Interpol, the World Customs Organization, the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the World Bank, which are looking at distinct aspects of the issue.

Mr. Scanlon said these measures are needed to protect all endangered species, not just rhinos, given that illegal trade in wildlife is estimated to be worth around $10 billion per year, driving many species closer to extinction.

“It is robbing people of their livelihoods, perpetuating fraud and criminal activity, and it also robs a country of its cultural and national heritage,” Mr. Scanlon said.

“It is not a losing battle, but it is a tough battle and we have to be up for the fight,” he added.

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