Elephant tusks and rhinoceros horns are being smuggled into China from Africa in growing numbers by transnational gangs in spite of law enforcement efforts, pointing to a need for greater public awareness to reduce demand for the prized items sought for their ornamental value or for traditional medicine, activists and officials say.
In October, a major ivory seizure in Hong Kong uncovered roughly four tons of ivory products valued at more than U.S. $3.4 million, and believed by animal welfare groups to have been taken from as many as 500 elephants.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), with offices in China, estimates that 25,000-50,000 elephants were killed for their ivory in 2011, says IFAW Asia Regional Director Grace Ge Gabriel.
“Rhino poaching is also on the rise,” Gabriel said.
“South Africa has seen over 300 rhinos killed in 2010, 400 rhinos killed last year, and this year already 400 rhinos slaughtered by poachers.”...
African governments are working hard to reduce the traffic, but in many cases find themselves “outgunned” by the well-organized criminal gangs supplying the trade, said U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Robert Hormats.
“It’s clearly a bigger problem than many of us even a year or two ago had thought it was, in terms of volume, in terms of the number of animals killed, in terms of just the sheer amount of money that is made with illegal wildlife trafficking.”
“After the arms trade and the drug trade, this is the third most lucrative trade of illegal items around the world,” Hormats said.
To help reduce the trade, Hormats said, the United States assists in awareness and enforcement efforts with groups such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Wildlife Enforcement Network and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-sponsored Asia’s Response to Endangered Species Trafficking (ARREST)....