U.S. place white rhino on endangered species list
The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has listed the southern white rhinoceros as an endangered species protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The agency said the move will protect not only the white rhino, but may save four other high-risk rhino species from extinction.
The FWS took the action in response to the what has become the unrestrained and widespread poaching of wild rhinoceros populations. It comes after South Africa, home to four-fifths of the world’s rhinos, reported a dramatic surge in white rhino killings in that country over the last year and a half. In 2012, South Africa recorded that 668 white rhinos were poached as compared to 448 killed in 2011 and 333 slaughtered in 2009, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
The southern white rhino was the last unprotected species of rhinoceros. By including it under the ESA’s umbrella of protection, the FWS is “closing a loophole in the law that has been exploited by unscrupulous poachers and traffickers seeking to cash in on global demand for rhino horn,” according to an agency news release.
Because it’s impossible to distinguish, without genetic testing, the horns of the southern white rhino from the endangered Javan, Sumatran, Indian, and black rhinos, traffickers have been able to pass off the horns of these latter protected species as white rhino horn in an effort to skirt sale and transport restrictions, the FWS said. The northern white rhinoceros became extinct in 2006.
The sharp increase in rhino poaching is fueled by a growing demand for rhino horn, which is ground up and used for its supposed medicinal properties. The belief that rhino horn–composed of keratin, like fingernails–can cure disease is completely unfounded, according to the FWS. The other contributing factor to the uptick in demand is an economic boom in Asia as more and more people are able to buy rhino horn.
“Historically, the horn has been used as a fever reducer in Asia. But that’s not new. What is new is that rhino horn has suddenly become the cool thing, particularly in Vietnam, for things like a hangover cure or a cancer cure–none of which is grounded in any research or scientific fact,” Craig Hoover, head of the FWS’s wildlife trade and conservation branch, told the Monitor.
Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe noted that the US is a hub for the trade in illegal rhino products, saying that this country plays a crucial role in curbing poaching and criminal wildlife trafficking.
“Along with extending protection to the southern white rhino, we’re evaluating additional regulatory and policy options in an effort to strengthen our ability to investigate and prosecute poachers,” Ashe said, adding: “We have a long history in working to curb the illegal wildlife trade, and are committed to working with international law enforcement agencies to address current and emerging challenges.”
Today, a kilogram of rhino horn costs between a whopping $60,000 and $65,000–more than its weight in gold, according to the FWS.