After growing international pressure, South African officials are meeting their Vietnamese counterparts in Hanoi this week to find solutions to stemming the illegal trade in rhino horns.
Cape Town, South Africa
Conservationists say the Asian country is the biggest customer for poached horns stripped from the dead rhinos, which some Vietnamese believe can cure cancer.
Rhino horn, which can fetch up to $4,000 a pound on the black market, is used as a handle for daggers in some countries, and used throughout parts of Asia as medicine and as an aphrodisiac.
Poor customs regulations and a lack of political will have been blamed for allowing the illegal trade to flourish, which has led to a public outcry in South Africa. Pictures of de-horned rhinos have become a common sight in the media.
After growing international pressure, a five-strong government party from South Africa made up of police, national park and environment department officials is holding four days of talks with their Vietnamese counterparts to find solutions to the problem. Although no one expects the meetings to lead to an immediate drop in the smuggling, most observers agree that it's an important first step toward stemming the trade.
“The Vietnamese agreeing to talks and acknowledging there is a problem with poaching is a significant first step," says Dr. Richard Thomas from the wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic, which organized the trip. "There is a lot of evidence to say the horns are being smuggled to Vietnam so it’s important that there is joint co-operation between the governments.”
So far this year, 232 rhinos have been killed in South Africa for their horns, compared to 122 last year and 81 the year before.
“Poaching has become extremely sophisticated," says Mr. Thomas. "Poachers can dart a rhino, chainsaw off its horn, and helicopter it off in a matter of minutes. It can end up on the Asian market within 30 hours.”