POLL: Should the illegal rhino horn trade be shut down?

POLL: Should the illegal rhino horn trade be shut down?

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How do you disrupt the illicit supply chain from Africa to Asia? That’s the question spurring a new investigation into rhino horn in China and Vietnam undertaken by the Elephant Action League (EAL), a Los Angeles-based conservation NGO.

are being decimated by poaching. In South Africa, home to almost 80 percent of the world’s rhinos, more than a thousand have been slaughtered annually during the past four years. That’s 8,000 percent more than were killed a decade ago, in 2007. Last year rangers in Kruger National Park were called out to stop more than 2,800 incursions by poachers—roughly eight every day.

POLL: Should the illegal rhino horn trade be shut down?
An attack by a poacher left this rhino in South Africa hornless. More than a thousand rhinos there have been slaughtered for their horns annually during the past four years. Photograph by Brent Stirton, Getty Images, National Geographic Creative

It has generally been thought that Vietnam is the main market for rhino horn, although little has been known about the traffickers and their links to countries of origin and transit. Until now, that is. The EAL report confirms that much of the horn winds up in Asia—but that China, not Vietnam, is the black market behemoth.

EAL’s investigation, conducted from August 2016 through June 2017, involved off-site research, intelligence analysis, and multiple undercover field missions to key locations in Vietnam and across China, with a focus there on provinces along the southern border: Guangxi, Guangdong, and Yunnan, as well as Henan, Fujian, and the capital, Beijing.

This confirmation that rhino horn is ubiquitous in China underscores how important it is for the country to take steps to shut down the trade, which is illegal, just as it has made strong moves to end trade in elephant ivory.

“As in the case of the elephants, the future of the rhino lies in the hands of China, and its willingness to enforce the law, and in the hands of the international community to apply pressure on China and Vietnam to stop this madness,” says Andrea Crosta, director of EAL and the author of the report.

“Unlike the illegal , where to make real money you have to smuggle or sell hundreds of kilos of ivory, in the case of the rhino, with a wholesale price for raw horn of roughly 40 times more per kilogram than raw ivory, you need much less to make good money,” Crosta says. “So overall the volume of the rhino horn in terms of pure quantity is much smaller than for ivory, yet the profits for traders are much higher.”

The hundred-page report, released today, reads a bit like a spy novel, with numerous quoted conversations (unattributed in this publicly available document) that give insights into the minds of rhino traffickers.

EAL details a web of traffickers, transporters, wholesale dealers, and traders that shows—by its very complexity—why stopping the trade is so difficult.

The investigators found that dealers in China typically don’t maintain an inventory but rather supply it on-demand to avoid detection. Dealers also use WeChat to connect with buyers and Alipay to process payments.

The names of key suspects and other evidence have been handed over to relevant authorities. “They can’t arrest these people just because it’s in our report, but it’s more than enough to trigger their own investigation,” Crosta says.

Some highlights of the report:

  • Although trading rhino horn has been illegal in China since 1993, it’s ubiquitous in the country. “It’s shocking to see how widespread and easy it is to find,” Crosta says. Given China’s huge, increasingly affluent population and the fact that fewer than 30,000 rhinos remain worldwide, this represents a serious threat to the survival of rhinos in the wild.
  • China appears to be the largest consumer of illegal rhino horn, and Vietnam is a key enabler. While nobody knows for sure, Crosta estimates that “several hundred rhino horns go through Vietnam to China every year—which may be up to half the total trade.”
  • The black market for rhino horn in China is stable and strong. “It’s not a market that is going down,” Crosta notes. That contrasts with EAL’s earlier ivory trade investigation, which found that Chinese traders didn’t want their children to go into the ivory business because it was a dying market. “You don’t feel that here,” Crosta says.
  • One of the most important routes for smuggled rhino horn is across the mountains from Vietnam into southern China. That’s a choke point that authorities could target. Often, rhino horn is smuggled from Vietnam to either Guangxi or Yunnan Provinces, then moved on to primary retail markets in cities in the provinces of Guangdong, Fujian, Zhejiang, or in Beijing. Traders often hire individuals, including children, to transport the contraband across the border because they can more readily avoid detection or inspection.
  • Rhino horn traders generally also deal in other illicit wildlife products—most commonly elephant ivory and scales, but investigators also found large quantities of tiger parts (teeth, skins, and bones), as well as bear paws, bile, and gall bladders, shells, beaks, skins, civet cats, king cobras, wolf skins and teeth, and corals. “China is still the largest market for illegal wildlife products,” the report says, “and this was evident in nearly all locations investigated by the EAL team. Vietnam is not far behind—most likely only because it is a smaller country.”
  • Based on the investigation’s findings, Crosta thinks current rhino horn awareness campaigns don’t resonate with the public. “Traders and buyers are concerned about only one thing: law enforcement. Nothing else.” He suggests a campaign focused on law enforcement that says, “If you buy or sell rhino horn, you go to jail”—provided it’s followed up with action.

Watch: Baby Rhino Rescued A Week After Being Shot and Orphaned

Dec. 7, 2016 – Watch this daring rescue of a wounded and orphaned rhino. After its mother was killed by poachers, the baby rhino survived a serious wound and lack of milk for a week in the wilds of South Africa. Rescuers from Care for Wild Africa and Working With Rhinos were able to capture and care for the rhino, and are confident that it will make a recovery.

EAL has handed a 200-page confidential intelligence brief to law enforcement agents in China, Vietnam, Interpol, and the United States. The brief contains case files on 55 rhino horn traders and traffickers in China and includes videos and other evidence.

“This is the most important outcome of this investigation,” Crosta says. “We’re not talking about a guy selling a bracelet or cup, but high level traders—people capable of importing and selling many raw horns and products.”

This article was first published by National Geographic on 18 Jul 2017.

We invite you to share your opinion whether the illegal rhino horn trade should be shut down? Please vote and leave your comments at the bottom of this page.

Should the illegal rhino horn trade be shut down?

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Editorial Comment: The purpose of this poll is to highlight important wildlife conservation issues and to encourage discussion on ways to stop . By leaving a comment and sharing this post you can help to raise awareness. Thank you for your support.


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All sectors of animal parts trading should be shut down, devalued and global education set in motion. Life or death sentances set (depending on country) for poaching the whole or any part of an animal whether it dies or survives. Hit them hard and make the process financially worthless for them even to try. As with many of these ‘humans’ its all about the money!




What a question is that, first of all it is illegal and with that said it should have been shut down ever since it is illegal and punished to the highest sentence ever, even new laws have to be enforced.


yes and yes


This photo says it all


YOu cannot shut the illegal horn trade down. Why??? There is to much for poor starvign Africans to make sellign a horn. Make the horn trade legal, serial number the horn and make it have papers to pass every point. Make it cheaper to green hunt a rhino. What you say??? If more people can do green hunts on rhino, you have more land for the to rome, the more land more animals since Africa deends on people pumping water holes in most of it. MOre legal chase means more money for gaurds and more money in the locals pocket… Read more »


Of course it should




Please remember that de-horning Rhino in Wild Life Parks has little value. Eventually, poachers will kill de-horned Rhino, so that they do not have to track it a second time, when their lives are in danger from anti-poaching units. This is what happened in the Zambezi Valley in Zimbabwe, where I think it is now recognized that this population is now, or very shortly , will be extinct.

Norman Deans van Swelm
Norman Deans van Swelm

undermine the trade with fake powder


The rhinoceros genus has suffered to many loses over the past few decades.If we don’t shut the horn-trade for good,it will eventually wipe them out in the wild one at the time.It will be a shame to only look at rhinos in a ZOO or worse on a book.

M Leybra
M Leybra

Humans don’t think about shame for rhinos going extinct. Care only about themselves. Nothing is going to stop the slaughter of anything, including all the other wildlife being poached, trafficked & sold across Vietnam into China. By 2050 human population is projected to increase another two billion, poaching is simply hastening the day when there will be ‘no room for animals.’ Or plants or fresh water for that matter or the continuing fact that by the end of the century human pop. is projected to reach 15 billion