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South Africa May Lose 515 Rhinos By Year End, Warns TRAFFIC

Aug 21, 2012 08:11 AM EDT

South Africa may lose 515 rhinos by year end due to poaching, warned wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

new report released Tuesday by TRAFFIC suggested that the surge in demand for rhino horns have caused a major decline in rhino population in South Africa.

The report pointed out that the country has lost around 281 rhinos until July 17 this year and will lose 515 rhinos by the year end if the current hunting rates continue.

In the recent years, South African government has stepped up measures to tackle illicit trading of rhino horns. Several criminals across other Asian countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and China have been arrested for poaching activities. However, loopholes in hunting policy still allows visitors from Vietnam to indulge in "pseudo hunts" for white rhino trophies in South Africa.

"A decade ago the first signs were on the horizon of the forthcoming rhino poaching crisis, but few then could have foreseen the magnitude and ramifications of what we face today," said Dr Jo Shaw, a Programme Officer with TRAFFIC and a co-author of the report.

"However, with the surging demand from Asia, people willing to pay high prices to get their hands on rhino horn, and little fear of capture by those smuggling horn, it was perhaps inevitable that this 'commodity' would catch the attention of the hardened criminal fraternity, creating a 'perfect storm' for rhino poaching and horn trade," he said.

The country recently suspended the hunting licenses of Vietnamese nationals and also introduced other changes to fill the loopholes in hunting policies. But experts pointed out that the hunters are becoming more sophisticated and are finding out new ways to indulge in illegal trading.

Criminals have increasingly turned to other means to get horns.  For example, at least 65 rhino horns have been stolen from public display within South Africa similar to the ones carried out in the US and the Europe, the TRAFFIC report said.

The report identified Vietnam as the main market for illegal trading of rhino horns. The demand for the animals' horns has been attributed to the belief among some Vietnamese people that rhino horns have detoxification properties, wherein the horns when mixed with alcohol or water can be used as a health tonic.

The notion that the horns can supposedly cure cancer has paved for an increase in their demand. In addition, the Vietnamese government's inaction has also failed to curb illegal trading.

The report suggested extensive measures to be taken to deal with current poaching crisis. It also demanded the Vietnam government to implement strict law enforcement methods to curb illegal trading.

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