On June 7, Beijing’s Capital Animal Welfare Association held a “Rhinos in Crisis” conference and made a plea to the public, calling for more attention to be given to the poaching of rhinos in Africa and asking China to take more responsibility. Many international rhino conservation experts participated in the conference, which was held in Beijing’s national swimming centre.
In just one month, in November 2011, Chinese and Hong Kong customs officials seized 33 adult rhino horns and other related animal products. Not long before, the media uncovered a rhino breeding centre in Sanya, Hainan, where “live horn cutting technology” was being researched, followed by reports that a Chinese company was attempting to import rhino horns from India and Africa.
These controversies have sparked renewed public attention, both within China and abroad.
“In the global arena of rhino protection, China shoulders greater responsibility,” said Qin Xiaona, press conference organiser and head of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Association.
Despite being illegal, the cross-border trade of wild animals has resulted in sales of nearly $20 billion, a trade smaller only than international arms and drug smuggling in value. Due to rapid economic development, east and south-east Asia have become major destinations for illegal international wildlife trade.
Fewer than 30,000 rhinos are thought to remain in Asia and Africa. In the three years from 2008 to 2011, more than 1,000 African rhinos were poached. In South Africa alone, 210 rhinos were killed by poachers in the first five months of this year. Despite strengthened environmental protection laws in South Africa, a network of criminal poachers with sophisticated equipment can track the whereabouts of rhinos and poaching has become even more rampant.
“If the growth rate of rhino poaching over the past six years persists, it won’t be too long until rhinos are extinct,” said Susie Watts, an independent English wildlife investigator.
In 1993, the Chinese government prohibited the domestic and international trade of tigers and rhinos. Hunting wild rhinos, as well as the so-called “live horn cutting” method of collecting rhino horns, are considered to be direct and covert acts which violate international regulation protecting endangered species.
A traditional Chinese medicine practitioner told chinadialogue that, despite popular opinion, the history of rhino horn use in Chinese medicine is actually quite short, and stories about the mysterious medical powers they carry are far from true.
Instead, the popular use of rhino horns in China stems from a mixture of superstition and commercial incitement. Furthermore, Chinese medicine only makes up a fraction of the trade in rhino horns. A more important factor in the widespread killing of these increasingly scarce creatures is the popular trend of collecting rhino horn art.
Translated by chinadialogue volunteer Marta Casey