Monday, February 6, 2012

Op-Ed: Zoos in UK put on alert amid fears of rhino horn poaching

It sounds unbelievable, but even rhinos in British zoos are not safe from poachers it seems. Wildlife parks and zoos in England, have been placed on alert amid fears that captive rhinos could be under threat from poachers.

The alert follows a misguided rumor that rhino horns cure cancer, prompting the poaching of rhinos to reach record proportions. Rhino horns are so in demand by the Asian medicine market, that England's National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) has alerted 15 zoos and wildlife parks across the country with rhinos, to tighten security and report any suspicious behavior. Authorities said the Daily Echo, expressed their concern when poaching reached an all time high and horns gained in value to a staggering "£25,000 per kg". If a rhino in residence at a zoo in England isn't safe, where is? The sad truth is there are few safe havens left for these impressive animals, threatened because the value of their horns have exceeded prices for gold, platinum and even in some cases, cocaine. South Africa, home to 90 percent of the rhinos in Africa and the largest rhino population in the world, is battling its largest poaching crisis ever. Poachers drop a rhino for its horn without hesitation and put a bullet into any person trying to protect them. For them, the end goal justifies the extinction of an entire rhino species, as seen in 2009, when poachers shot and killed the world's last Vietnamese rhinoceros, a subspecies of the Javan rhino. The last rhino species to survive on the southeast Asia mainland, the Vietnamese rhino was destroyed to meet the rising demand for powdered rhino horn within the Asian traditional medicine market. Rhino horn has long been touted for its healing properties in traditional medicine. Yet the extinction of the Vietnamese rhino species was sealed, the moment a Vietnamese politician declared his cancer was cured from ingesting powdered rhino horn. Despite the lack of scientific evidence to support the claim, the rumor went viral and prices for rhino horn rose tangibly. Having forced the Vietnamese rhino into extinction, poachers have focused on South Africa's rhinos. Rhino's slaughtered for their horns, rose from 13 in 2007 to 443 in 2011. Now, almost 6,000 miles away, the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) is warning zoos and safari parks in the UK, that poachers could now be targeting their animals. The act of poaching is a brutal and inhumane one, with animals often left to bleed to death after having their horns cut off. Neil D'Cruze, of the World Society for the Protection of Animals told The Guardian, "natural resources have been depleted to the point where they're having to look elsewhere to obtain it." Sergeant Ian Knox, of the Metropolitan police wildlife crime unit said, "most people know about it but they think it's something that happens in Africa or Asia". Yet, where there is a demand, people will meet it said Knox, and the process usually involves sophisticated and organized international crime syndicates. England may not be known for its exotic animals said the Sergeant, but it boasts a roaring trade in exotic animal parts. We see "everything from tortoises to tiger bone [...and...] birds of prey to bear bile for sale" Knox said. In February 2011, a rhino head worth more than £50,000, was stolen from Sworders Auctioneers in Stansted Mountfitchet. This was followed in July by a break-in at an Ipswich museum, where thieves stole the horn from a stuffed rhino on display. During the same month, reported the BBC NEWS, Europol announced it had uncovered an Irish organized crime group illegally trading rhino horn worth tens of thousands of euros as far afield as China.

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