The South African government is backing the legalisation of trade in rhino horn in an effort to stem poaching of the endangered animals. South Africa is home to 90 per cent of the world’s rhino population, and illegal killing is rising toward a record figure as poachers increasingly target private game farms. At least 446 rhinos have been killed illegally in South Africa this year, with 280 slaughtered in Kruger National Park alone. The animals’ horns sell for more than gold in China and Vietnam, where they are believed by some to cure cancer and boost virility.
This is part of a wider initiative to help combat illegal wildlife trafficking announced by US president Barack Obama on the final stop of his African tour. The executive order would set up a presidential task force to compile new strategies for cracking down on the criminal gangs behind the recent explosion in trafficking, thought to be fuelling rebel wars as well as threatening the survival of elephants and rhinos. Conservation groups estimate that the illegal trade in wildlife parts is worth up to $10bn a year, with elephant and rhino at the top of the list. The order called for $10m to train police officers and park rangers in Tanzania, South Africa, Kenya and other countries. “Poaching operations have expanded beyond small-scale, opportunistic actions to coordinated slaughter commissioned by armed and organized criminal syndicates,” the order said. “The survival of protected wildlife species…has beneficial economic, social, and environmental impacts that are important to all nations. Wildlife trafficking reduces those benefits while generating billions of dollars in illicit revenues each year, contributing to the illegal economy, fueling instability, and undermining security.”