Chinese Demand Fuels Illegal Slaughter of Rhinos, Elephants, and Tigers

Conservation by from The Weekly Standard, March 1, 2013

While American environmentalists focus primarily on saving field mice and frustrating development and energy production on the home front, there’s a growing need for genuine conservation and stewardship to protect the natural habitats of the world’s grandest animals.  Take the cases of the rhino and the elephant.

The Independent writes that, in 2007, poachers killed 13 rhinoceros in South Africa (where the vast majority of rhinos live).  Last year, they killed 668 — a 50-fold increase in just five years.  It also reports that last year’s global seizures of illegal ivory — much of it from elephant tusks — were up nearly 50 percent from 2011’s record-setting tally of 23 tons.

The Independent writes that this poaching, “which is driving the illegal killing of Africa’s biggest ‘big beasts’ to unprecedented new levels,” is fueled by demand from China and Vietnam:

“The elephant slaughter is being driven by demand for carved ivory products from the burgeoning Chinese middle class, and the rhino killings by an explosive appetite for rhino horn by practitioners of traditional Asian medicine in Vietnam.

“The latter is based on an urban myth of a Vietnamese politician (whom no one can name) alleged to have had his cancer cured by ingesting powdered rhino horn. Although the story is baseless, it has driven the black market price of rhino horn to $65,000 per kilo…, which is greater than the price of gold.”

In addition, Chinese demand for tiger parts is threatening tigers’ survival in the wild and has now spawned tiger farming in China.  (Three of the nine tiger subspecies—the Bali, Javan, and Caspian—have already become extinct in the years since World War II.)  Grizzlies and other bears in America and Asia are also targets, as they are killed to satisfy Chinese demand for their gallbladders.

In Africa, the western black rhino was recently declared extinct, the northern white rhino has possibly become extinct in the wild, and forest elephants in Central Africa are being threatened with extinction.

The Independent reports that the poaching that’s jeopardizing the survival of these great animals will be at the “top of the agenda at one of the world’s major conservation conferences next week—with a global appeal to Vietnam and China.”

It continues:

“At the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) in Bangkok, leading states…will be putting pressure on the two Asian countries to curb their domestic demand for illegal rhino horn and ivory. . . .

“A crucial aspect of Cites is that it is a trade agreement—and if nations fall foul of it or fail to meet their obligations, trade sanctions could be imposed.

“This means Vietnam or China might be forbidden from exporting or importing items covered by the convention.”

© 2013 by The Weekly Standard. Reprinted with permission.