By Natalie Lapides
It takes just 48 hours for a rhino horn to go from a live rhino in South Africa to a shop in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Poachers go into a reserve on foot under the cover of night, without a torch. They received a tip about a rhino's whereabouts and track it. They shoot the rhino using a silencer, then shoot its young calf in the chest as it tries to defend its mother. The rhino falls, and the poachers quickly start cutting out the horn, hacking deeply into the rhino's face to get as much of the horn out as possible. They do not check to see if the rhino is actually dead. The shooting and dehorning process takes just 10 minutes in the early hours of the morning. The rhino is left in shock, missing half her face, and her traumatized calf remains at her side.
Just 12 hours later, the horn has been trucked to Mozambique where it will board a plane to Vietnam. Twelve hours after this, the horn is in Vietnam and is passed on to an illegal dealer. Another 12 hours, and the horn is for sale in a shop in Hanoi.
This demonstrates the efficiency and complexity of the criminal syndicates at work here. With eight or more people in the chain, investigations are very difficult. Each person in the syndicate only has contact with the person directly above and below him, so arresting people at the bottom does not increase chances of catching the middlemen or people at the top. At the very bottom of the chain is often a farm laborer who spots the rhino and communicates its location -- without even knowing who gets this information, or why they need it. Each level of the chain gets more money than the person below them, and the horn is passed up until it gets to its final destination, usually in Vietnam or China.
We need to understand these criminal networks to curb illegal trade. However, changing trafficking patterns and their general complexity makes it difficult. There are harvesting networks, theft networks, and distribution networks that work together, making up links in the supply chain for illegal rhino horn trade. Some networks are opportunistic, and others fit the definition of organized crime. General knowledge is slowly growing, but we do not yet have enough information on what makes these networks so resilient. Despite anti-poaching units, military that has been brought in, and other deterrent techniques, illegal trading continues, bringing huge profits to poachers and middlemen, which is only further incentive for poaching and more illegal trade. More....