Vietnam and South Africa signed a deal Monday to tackle rhino poaching and the lucrative illicit trade in the creature's horns for use in traditional medicine, government officials and activists said.
Illegal hunting of South Africa's rhinos has risen in recent years to meet surging demand for their horns in East Asia, in particular Vietnam where they are highly prized for their supposed medicinal qualities.
Fighting wildlife crime "especially on the rare, precious and endangered species including rhinos (is) always of concern to the Vietnam government", Minister of Agriculture Cao Duc Phat said in a statement.
The minister vowed to seek a total ban on the import of all rhino products, according to the statement released after the signing ceremony in Hanoi.
Global wildlife activists have been pushing Vietnam to tackle the illegal rhino horn trade, which is popular among the Southeast Asian nation's elite who can afford the estimated $5,000 it costs for each 100-gram chunk sold.
The deal, which is partly a result of heavy lobbying by activists, covers cooperation in biodiversity management and conservation and refers only in general terms to addressing illegal wildlife smuggling.
But conservation groups welcomed the move.
The deal marks "a turning point in efforts to protect Africa's rhinos," said Stuart Chapman, of the WWF in the Greater Mekong.
"South Africa and Vietnam have publicly signalled their intention to get tough on the criminal syndicates behind the rhino poaching spree," Chapman said in a statement after the deal was signed.
More than 600 rhinos have been poached across South Africa since the start of the year, according to official South African sources.
Many of their horns are suspected to have been smuggled to Vietnam.
South Africa is home to about three-quarters of Africa's 20,000 or so white rhinos and 4,800 critically endangered black rhinos.
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