US, Vietnam launch action program to stop wildlife trade, save rhinos

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Rhinos are the main focus of the new conservation program Operation Game Change. Photo: Vietnam News Agency/Education for Nature-Vietnam Rhinos are the main focus of the new conservation program Operation Game Change. Photo: Vietnam News Agency/Education for Nature-Vietnam

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The US embassy and Vietnam’s agriculture ministry on Tuesday inaugurated a new action program that marked the beginning of a coalition between the countries against wildlife trafficking.
Operation Game Change, launched to celebrate 20 years of Vietnam-US relations, is funded by the US Department of State and implemented by an alliance of government and non-government agencies.
The program is said to support, complement and expand upon the USAID–funded Asia’s Regional Respond to Endangered Species Trafficking (ARREST) Program component in Vietnam, which is aimed at reducing the consumption and sales of endangered species in Hanoi.
It plans to have influenced millions of Vietnamese by the time the program wraps up in September this year, with a focus on preventing rhino poaching for horns.
Main markets for rhino horns, which have been used for centuries as a carving material and a medicinal substance, include the US, Vietnam and China.
World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report 2014 cited researchers as saying that the earth has lost 52 percent of its wildlife in the past 40 years.
One of the main killers is transnational trafficking of wild animals and their parts, which is fueled by the belief in their medicinal effects despite the lack of adequate scientific evidence, and the desire to show off.
Conservation groups said wildlife trafficking has been growing in an industry worth around US$20 billion.
Ted Osius, the US ambassador to Vietnam, said at Tuesday's ceremony that wildlife trafficking is pushing many species to extinction, especially African rhinos.
Cao Duc Phat, Vietnam’s agriculture minister, said the country has launched various campaign against wildlife consumption and is chairing ASEAN’s Wildlife Enforcement Network, the world’s largest wildlife law enforcement network that involves police, customs and environment agencies.
“The awareness of wildlife protection in Vietnam has been raised and rhino consumption has clearly declined,” Phat said, as cited by Vietnam News Agency.
“But to secure long-term protection for wildlife, we need more actions.”

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