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28 July 2011 Issue

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International Smuggling Syndicate
Behind Rhino Killings in Nepal

By Rhishja Larson

A parliamentary probe into Nepal’s rise in rhino poaching reveals involvement of an international smuggling syndicate.

A recent investigation – ordered by Nepal’s Prime Minister – into increased rhino poaching in Chitwan National Park has led to an unsurprising conclusion: An international smuggling syndicate is behind the killings.

The parliament’s 11-member Natural Resources and Means Committee arrived at its conclusion following an emergency meeting called by Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal earlier this week. It was also noted that “flaws in National Parks and Wild Life Conservation Act-1973? are a contributing factor, although the committee has not yet commented on findings pertaining to the Conservation Act’s flaws.

Committee member Laxman Ghimire said via My Republica that the committee would present recommendations to the government for halting the rhino poaching epidemic.

We will recommend to the government necessary measures that need to be taken to protect rhinos from the clutches of poachers.

Another contributing factor to the problem was apparently a “lapse in security” by the Nepal Army, which is responsible for protecting Chitwan National Park. The security issue is reportedly being investigated by an inquiry team headed by Brigadier General Yagya Bikram Rana.

Citizens and Prime Minister demand ‘action’

In addition to the Natural Resources and Means Committee, the June 16 assembly included Chitwan National Park officials, conservation activists, locals and other stakeholders.
Outside the meeting, young people called for punishment.

Dozens of school kids flanked Sunday’s meeting, bearing placards that demanded action against poachers.

Inside the meeting, the Prime Minister voiced his frustration at officials who were pointing fingers instead of taking action.

The PM called all the authorities concerned to stop the blame game and coordinate better to save the endangered species.

In the past 11 months, 28 greater one-horned rhinos (Rhinoceros unicornis) have been killed by poachers in Chitwan National Park.

During the last two months, eight rhinos have died – seven from poaching activity and one believed due to natural causes, as the horn was intact. Sadly, the victims include a helpless rhino calf who perished after its mother was slaughtered.

Nepalis mourn their slain rhinos

Earlier this week, mourners gathered at Kathmandu’s Banasntapur Durbar Square to pay tribute to the rhinos who were brutally murdered, and observed eight minutes of silence (one for each rhino who had died in the last two months).

Attendees also wrote touching tributes in a condolence book that was made available for the gathering.

The beasts shot you and made you die in pain. Even that failed to satisfy them. Then they snatched away your priceless ornament from your dead body. My tribute to you.

Nepal: Home of the greater one-horned rhinoceros

Nepal is home to approximately 435 greater one-horned rhinos (Rhinoceros unicornis). This Asian rhino species was recently reclassified from Endangered to Vulnerable by the IUCN .

Although the worldwide population is just 2,800, the numbers are steadily increasing from a low of 200 greater one-horned rhinos.

Rhinos under threat

All five species of rhinos remain under threat, due to demand for rhino horn in China and Vietnam. The demand is fueled by cultural superstitions that attribute healing powers to rhino horn – despite the fact that scientific analysis has proven rhino horn has no medicinal effect on humans.

Unfortunately, China’s pharmaceutical industry continues to manufacture rhino horn “remedies” and promote rhino horn as a “medicine” to the largest population on Earth.

Ten Rhino Horn and Ivory Dealers Arrested in Zimbabwe

Here’s to a job well done!

Two sting operations have reportedly netted ten rhino horn and ivory dealers who were caught trying to sell their illicit goods to Chinese people at Harare’s upscale shopping center, Sam Levy’s Village. The arrests were made in a joint effort of Zimbabwe Parks, and the Police Minerals and Border Control Unit. At least three of the suspects are former soldiers. According to, suspects Godfrey Nyambuya, Nelson Abraham, Charles Muzenda, Brighton Kucherana, Peter Makaye Murira, David Marahwu were arrested with two rhino horns. The others – Rodgers Aluberto, Thomas and Tongai Saburinyu, and Chriswell Mukwenya – were in possession of four elephant tusks. Authorities also confiscated a CZ pistol with one round of ammunition from Charles Muzenda. Learn the facts about rhino horn at Busting the Rhino Horn Medicine Myth with Science

Three Suspected Rhino Killers Shot Dead in Kruker National Park, South Africa

Park rangers prevailed over rhino killers in a skirmish at Kruger National Park.

In an armed encounter at South Africa’s Kruger National Park, three suspected rhino killers were fatally shot by park rangers. Another suspect was wounded, and a fifth escaped. An R5 assault rifle, along with other poaching-related implements, were also recovered. The incident occurred last evening in the Stolsnek Section of the Park. Less than a month ago, Kruger National Park rangers shot and killed five rhino poachers near the Mozambique border. And last week, forest guards at Orang National Park in India gave a rhino poacher a taste of his own deadly medicine. South Africa lost at least 21 rhinos to the illegal rhino horn trade during January 2011.Slaughter continues.

During 2010, 333 rhinos were slaughtered in South Africa, and 2011's death toll is rising. Some of the killings have been noted here, including the country’s most recent rhino tragedy in the Western Cape, where a rhino was darted and overdosed at Botlierskop Private Game Reserve. Just a few days earlier, a rhino was murdered in the Willem Pretorius Game Reserve, near the town of Senekal, in South Africa’s Free State Province. Three weeks ago, a rhino was killed in KwaZulu-Natal. Prior to that, two rhinos were murdered in Kruger National Park, a pregnant rhino was slaughtered the Hoedspruit area, and another near Musina.

Still another was killed in the Eastern Cape, at Kariega Game Reserve near Kenton-on-Sea. In addition, at least seven rhinos have been gunned down in Zimbabwe, one in India, and another in Nepal. Continued use of illegal rhino horn in traditional ‘medicines’At the root of the rhino crisis is the continued use of rhino horn in traditional Chinese medicine. Illegal rhino horn is in highly sought after for use in traditional medicines in China and Vietnam, despite the fact rhino horn has been extensively analyzed and contains no medicinal properties. Research conducted by the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC revealed that most rhino horns leaving Southern Africa are being smuggled to China and Vietnam. In Vietnam, a wildlife trade researcher found that rhino horn could command USD $40, 000 per kilogram. 1 Other sources, including a 2008 Chinese research publication, suggest that the price could be even higher in China, perhaps as high as USD $60, 000 per kilogram.2 Average weights for rhino horns are three kilograms for black rhinos, and five and half for white rhinos. Inside jobs. It turns out that an alarming number of “insiders” from within the South African conservation community have been busted for cashing in on the ignorance and myths surrounding the use of rhino horn. Last week, two Vietnamese rhino horn smugglers were arrested at the Wonderboom Airport in Pretoria when they were found to be in illegal possession of four rhino horns. Tran Thu Hien and Phuong Huynh Phat had killed two rhinos on a trophy hunt in Limpopo Province.

The South African Police Service noted that although the rhino hunt was legal, the trophy head must be mounted by a taxidermist, and the horns must be microchipped. This case illustrates the primary way rhino horn is laundered for the Vietnamese market: Legal rhino hunts in South Africa. In January, South African hunter Christaan Frederik van Wyk was arrested for illegally shooting a rhino on behalf of a Vietnamese hunting client. Veterinarian Andre Charles Uys was also arrested last month in connection with rhino horn trafficking, in a separate a incident. There is an in-depth look at this disturbing topic at Are ‘Insiders’ Intentionally Fueling Demand for Illegal Rhino Horn?, which notes that nefarious business alliances, loophole abuse, private stockpile leakage, dehorning scams, and legalized trade speculation are exacerbating South Africa’s rhino crisis.

Scientific studies conclude rhino horn is worthless as a remedy.

As part of our continued efforts to set the record straight on rhino horn’s so-called curative properties, we would like to re-produce three scientific studies confirming that rhino horn has no medicinal value. The studies were conducted by different teams of researchers at separate institutions. In each case, the results were conclusive: There is no scientific evidence to support claims of rhino horn’s usefulness as a medicine. Public awareness and education. We believe that today’s network of communication tools, such as social media, will make it possible for these findings to reach a global audience like never before – and we can move closer to busting these persistent myths about rhino horn, which are indeed the root of the rhino crisis. By raising public awareness and educating others about the truth behind rhino horn, we can make a difference. Scientific evidence ignored; rhino population plummets. When there were still at least 15,000 black rhinos on the African continent, WWF and the IUCN commissioned a pharmacological study of rhino horn, hoping that science would trump cultural myths. Conducted by Hoffmann-LaRoche, the research was published in The Environmentalist.

The study “found no evidence that rhino horn has any medicinal effect as an antipyretic and would be ineffective in reducing fever, a common usage in much of Asia.”Testing also confirmed that “rhino horn, like fingernails, is made of agglutinated hair” and “has no analgesic, anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmolytic nor diuretic properties” and “no bactericidal effect could be found against suppuration and intestinal bacteria.”Tragically, by 1993, ten years after the study was published, Africa’s black rhino population had plummeted to just 2,300.Rhino horn in the laboratory – again. Later analysis of rhino horn by Dr. Raj Amin at the Zoological Society of London confirmed what had been found earlier by the pharmacological testing done by Hoffmann-LaRoche. There was still no evidence to support the notion that rhino horn was of any medicinal value. Check out Dr. Amin’s video: “There is no evidence at all that any constituent of rhino horn has any medical property. Medically, it’s the same as if you were chewing your own nails,” says Dr. Amin. Of rats and rhino horn. The usefulness of rhino horn as a medicine was also debunked by scientists at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who published their findings in the research study Ethnopharmacology of Rhinoceros Horn. I: Antipyretic Effects of Rhinoceros Horn and Other Animal Horns. Although fever-induced rats showed temporary lowering of temperature after being injected with an extremely high concentration of rhino horn extract, there was no antipyretic effect at the dosage levels comparable to what would be prescribed to a human patient.

Apparently, based on the results of this study, rhinoceros horn can reduce fever, but only at rather high dosage levels when prescribed as a single drug.

It is worth noting that while the Chinese University at Hong Kong study is often cited as “evidence” that rhino horn does indeed reduce fever, the above details (rats and dosage levels) are frequently omitted. ‘Something that works for everything works for nothing.’ In September 2010, Dr. Albert Lim Kok Hooi, a consulting oncologist based in Kuala Lumpur, published a most welcome article in Malaysia’s popular online news portal, The Star Online in which he dismissed the notion of rhino horn’s effectiveness as a medicine. A lingering cultural belief in traditional medicines (most are based on TCM) in Southeast Asia, and the impact on rhino conservation efforts prompted Dr. Hooi speak up on behalf of the embattled pachyderms.

To all this, I say that something that works for everything usually works for nothing. I also say that something that has been used for hundreds or thousands of years does not make it right.

The oncologist sums it up in a compassionate statement underscoring the fact that rhino horn contains no curative properties.

The whole sad story of killing the rhino for its horn is not only criminal, it is cruel, immoral and unforgivably, without any scientific basis.

Although Dr. Hooi comes from a generation whose medical knowledge was shaped by myths about the alleged magical powers of animal parts, he realizes that these notions have no place in modern medicine. Rhinos pay the price of myths, greed, and corruption. Earlier this month, South Africa National Parks (SANParks) announced that more than 70 rhinos have already been slaughtered since the beginning of the year. During the same time period, 64 people have been arrested in connection with rhino horn crimes. Meanwhile, at least eleven alleged rhino horn syndicate members are expected in court on April 11th, when the high-profile case involving game farmer Dawie Groenewald begins.

The eleven accused rhino horn syndicate members, including Groenewald, along with veterinarians Karel Toet and Manie du Plessis, will face charges of assault, fraud, corruption, malicious damage to property, illegal possession of firearms and ammunition, and contravention of the National Environmental Biodiversity Act. Continued use of illegal rhino horn. The biggest threat to the survival of the world’s rhinos is the continued use of illegal rhino horn in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Despite scientific evidence that proves otherwise (see above!), millions of people still believe in the notion of rhino horn as a cure-all for a wide array of maladies, which has traditionally included fever and “devil possession”. Rhino horn is even marketed by TCM practitioners in China and Vietnam (and on TCM websites) as a treatment for extremely serious illnesses, such as cancer. Worryingly, this burgeoning market for rhino horn as a cancer treatment has prompted interest in selling rhino horn stockpiles or even legalizing rhino horn trade, as a way to profit from families of terminally ill patients. Estimates for the price of illegal rhino horn range from USD $25,000 to $60,000 per kilogram. How to help. You can help raise public awareness about the illegal trade in rhino horn by sharing the articles on this blog

source photos: Photo courtesy of Shankar Chaudhary

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