By Derek Brooks
Growing Asian demand for ivory and rhino horn as gifts and hangover cures - not for traditional medicine - is fuelling a poaching boom, international officials said on Tuesday, demanding stiffer penalties for traffickers.
Wildlife crime and illegal forestry has become the fourth- largest cross-border type of crime in the world behind the illicit trade in drugs, arms and human beings, a United Nations conference in Vienna heard.
The World Wildlife Fund estimates the category is worth $17 billion a year and includes the poaching of rhinoceros and elephants for their horns and tusks, hunting of large cat species for fur, and illegal harvesting of trees.
The UNODC, however, estimates a much larger value, with the trade in the Asia and the Pacific region alone having a total value of some $19.5 billion for the illegal trade in wildlife and wood-based products.
South Africa, home to the largest population of rhinos, is on pace to lose 812 of the animals this year. Poachers sell the horn to crime syndicates to feed swelling demand in Asia, where the horn is thought to cure cancer and have other health benefits.
Horns are sold to the newly affluent at pharmacies in places like Hanoi at prices higher than gold.
John Scanlon, director-general of the Geneva-based Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), told the conference that growing demand for ivory and rhino horn had triggered a startling increase in poaching.
"China and Southeast Asia are the biggest destinations of these illegal products, but not because of the traditional medical uses. Growing uses in Asia include the giving of ivory as a high-value gift, drinking of rhino horn wine, and rhino horn as an aphrodisiac, a cure for cancer, and hangovers." More....