Illegal trade seizures: Rhino horn

The survival of the world’s rhinos is seriously threatened by poaching for their horns.

Of the five species, three (black, Sumatran and Javan) are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List and the white rhino is Near Threatened. The greater one-horned rhino of India and Nepal is listed as Vulnerable but, with a fragmented population of less than 3,600, they remain at risk.

The past decade has seen a dramatic escalation in rhino poaching. In South Africa, home to about 86 per cent of the world’s white rhinos, more than 1,000 were poached every year from 2013 through 2017, up from 13 in 2007. Kruger National Park, the world’s white rhino stronghold, lost more than half of its white rhinos in the span of just five years from 2012 to 2017.

In Asia, the majority of the estimated 3,588 greater one-horned rhinos are found in just two protected areas, and with as few as 40 Sumatran and about 67 Javan rhinos surviving in Indonesia, these species are edging towards extinction.

Horn trafficking is undertaken by transnational organised crime networks, many involved in other trafficking activities, including ivory, pangolins and big cats.

Demand for rhino horn comes primarily from China and Vietnam, where it is used to carve cups and trinkets, ground up as a hangover cure, party drug or in traditional medicine or displayed whole as a status symbol.

Methodology of collecting data

Data has been collected from publicly available information, including government reports, enforcement agency press releases and non-governmental and academic papers, along with news media in several languages, but is not an exhaustive data set and likely represents only a fraction of actual activity between 2006-20. We would like to thank TRAFFIC, Robin des Bois, Education for Nature Vietnam, Wildlife Protection Society of India and ADM Capital Foundation for additional cases included in this dataset.

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This map was last updated in September 2020

Key takeaways

  • The yellow markers represent a total of 752 seizures of rhino horn, involving approximately 7,779kg, equivalent to about 2,800 individual horns.
  • The blue markers represent thefts of rhino horn, including thefts from government stockpiles, private homes and museums. These incidents involve the theft of at least 408 rhino horns, which were likely trafficked into the black market.
  • The green markers, 176 cases in total, represent convictions relating to selling or purchasing rhino horn, theft of rhino horn, or individuals found in possession of horn. The map does not include convictions relating to poaching unless a seizure of rhino horn also took place.
  • Based on our data set, the countries in which the greatest amounts of horn have been seized since 2006 are South Africa (2,921kg), China (including Hong Kong) (1,589kg), Vietnam (831kg), Mozambique (541kg), Namibia (269kg), Malaysia (167kg) and Thailand (136kg). In addition, 68 seizure incidents are noted in India and 33 in Nepal.
  • Using the filters underneath the map, incidents that have been linked to Vietnam or China can be shown on the map. Overall, our records document the seizure of 743kg of rhino horn linked to China and 1,579kg linked to Vietnam made abroad. In total, 2,332kg (30 per cent of total seizures) of rhino horn has been seized in and linked to China, and 2,675kg (31 per cent of total seizures) has been seized in and linked to Vietnam.
  • Chinese nationals have been arrested in possession of rhino horn throughout Africa, Asia and Europe, with a particular proliferation of cases in South Africa in recent years.
  • Vietnamese nationals have been arrested in various African countries, as well as in transit and destination countries such as Qatar, the Czech Republic, Thailand, Singapore and China.
  • The global nature of the rhino horn trade highlighted by this map emphasises the importance of regional and international cooperation between enforcement agencies.
  • There is an urgent need to end all demand for rhino horn in China, Vietnam and other countries and this goal can be achieved only if laws and policies clearly prohibit trade, including domestic trade, and that these are effectively enforced.

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