China must help S. Africa halt rhino poaching surge, WWF says

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China, Vietnam and Thailand, where rhinoceros horns are used for supposed medicinal properties, need to match South Africa's efforts to end a surge in poaching of the endangered animals, WWF International said.

South Africa, home to 93 percent of Africa's rhino population, has arrested 165 people this year in connection with rhino killings. At least 287 rhinos have been killed by poachers in South Africa in 2011 compared with 181 during the same period a year earlier, Joseph Okori, the African Rhino Programme manager for the Gland, Switzerland-based conservation group, told reporters in Johannesburg today.

"The WWF is calling on governments in Vietnam, China and Thailand to do their part in reducing illegal rhino horn trade," Okori said. "We have not seen or heard of one case in these consumer countries where people have been arrested, convicted and put behind bars."

Rhino poaching last year surged to a record 333 killings in South Africa, which has about 19,400 white rhinos and 1,678 black rhinos, according to the country's parks department. Last month Edna Molewa, the country's environment minister, said the country may even dehorn rhinos in its national parks to deter poachers as this year's total is likely to exceed the 2010 tally.

South African newspapers have in recent months had pictures of rhino carcasses with their horns hacked off by poachers on their front pages and a number of public awareness campaigns have been started.

South Africa will meet with officials from Vietnam and China later this month to address growing demand for rhino horns in Asia, Okori said.

Poison horns

"The onus strongly and squarely falls" on these consumer countries to increase public awareness and change attitudes, Okori said.

In addition to dehorning the animals to make them less attractive to poachers the country is also considering placing a moratorium on rhino hunting to halt abuse of the permit system to gain access to horns and is looking at whether legalizing trade in rhino horn would curb poaching, Molewa said.

WWF does not support the legalization of trade in rhino horn, Okori said and also does not back an initiative by a private South African park to inject poison and dye into live animals horns. Dehorning rhinos is also not seen by WWF as effective because this method is very costly, it can leave the Rhino without an important tool for defense and horns grow back, Okori said.

White rhinos weigh as much as 2.7 metric tons (5,952 pounds) while black rhinos weigh up to 1.35 tons. There are also three Asian species -- Javan, Indian and Sumatran.

In 2009, the United Nations' Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species estimated that rhino poaching globally was at a 15-year high. Rhino poaching is also a problem in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, India and Nepal.

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