Adult rhino in the wild

Map exposes the scale and nature of rhino horn trade

EIA has produced an interactive map of the illegal trade in rhino horn, the latest in a series of visualisations of illegal wildlife trade.

Poaching is the main threat to the survival of rhinos today, driven by demand for their horns. The plight of rhinos in Africa hangs in the balance as poaching has escalated hugely over the past decade – poaching in South Africa increased by over 9,000 per cent in just seven years, from 13 rhinos in 2007 to 1,215 in 2014.

Demand for rhino horn comes primarily from Vietnam and China, where it is ground up for use as a hangover cure, party drug or in traditional medicine (despite having no medicinal value), used as a material for carving cups and trinkets or is displayed whole as a status symbol.

The rhino horn trade is undertaken by transnational organised crime networks trafficking hundreds of rhino horns across continents. The response of governments in tackling this trade has been inadequate and not commensurate with the serious level of criminality involved.

EIA has produced a map to emphasise the scale of the illegal rhino horn trade and the gaps in governments’ responses to it. The map below represents seizures and thefts of rhino horn that have taken place during 2006-16, along with convictions relating to the rhino horn trade..

Data has been collected from publicly available information including government reports, enforcement agency press releases and news media in several languages, but is not an exhaustive data set and likely represents only a fraction of actual activity from 2006-16. Read about the map data in more detail here.

The map shows that:
• approximately 2,947kg of horn, equivalent to about 1,060 individual horns, has been seized in total of 357 incidents from 2006 to May 2016. This represents a mere fraction of the actual level of illegal trade in rhino horn;
• at least 267 horns have been stolen from museums, government-held stockpiles and private homes, which were likely trafficked onto the black market;
• few seizures have been openly reported as resulting in convictions.

Dead white rhino in South Africa, 1991.

Poached white rhino in South Africa (c) EIA

EIA’s trade data suggests a high degree of involvement of Vietnamese and Chinese nationals across the rhino horn trade and the map shows that nationals of both countries have been arrested in rhino range states, transit countries and consumer countries in the past decade. For example, in March 2014 three Chinese nationals were arrested at Windhoek Airport in Namibia in possession of 14 horns; a fourth was arrested in May 2015. Vietnamese nationals have been arrested in several African countries, including two arrested in October 2014 in Johannesburg in possession of 41kg of horn, as well as transit countries such as Qatar, Singapore and the Czech Republic.

Overall, EIA’s records document the seizure of 887kg of rhino horn explicitly linked to Vietnam (30 per cent of total seizures) and 695kg explicitly linked to China (24 per cent of total).

In order to systematically tackle rhino horn trafficking, co-operation between all implicated countries is essential – particularly between source, transit and destination countries. Enforcement efforts should create the best possible deterrents through meaningful sentences and penalties, as well as the recovery of assets and proceeds of crime leading to the prosecution of key and persistent criminals and disruption of criminal networks.

Further, there is an urgent need to end all demand for rhino horn in Vietnam, China and other countries and this depends upon the effective enforcement of laws that clearly prohibit all trade in rhino horn. In April, Swaziland submitted a proposal to the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITE) which, if successful, would allow it to sell its stockpile of rhino horn to unspecified buyers “in the Far East”.

EIA calls on all governments to strongly reject this proposal at the forthcoming meeting of all CITES Parties in September.

The global illegal trade in rhino horn is seriously threatening the survival of wild rhinos. Any parallel legal markets would further stimulate demand, undermine enforcement and enable laundering of poached horn onto legal markets. Given the critical state of rhino conservation today, opening legal trade is a risk that the global community cannot afford to take.