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In response to record poaching rates, WWF is launching a global campaign calling on governments to combat illegal wildlife trade and reduce the demand for illicit endangered species products.
So far this year, 339 rhinos have been killed by poachers in South Africa in order to supply consumer markets in Vietnam, where the animal’s horn is advertised as a hangover tonic and cure for terminal illness. Rhino poaching has increased by more than 3 000% in the past five years.
“African rhinos are a unique part of Africa’s heritage,” says Dr. Deon Nel, Biodiversity Unit Head of WWF-South Africa (WWF-SA). “Africans need to take ownership of this iconic species and not allow them to be exploited for the benefit of a few.”
Nel explains, “Over the years we’ve seen the squabble for Africa’s natural resources by foreign interests playing out, leading to the depletion of valuable fisheries and exploitation of mineral resources to benefit a select few. The current exploitation of Africa’s rhinos is no different. The rhino has been an object of value in African culture for centuries, as illustrated by the Mapungubwe gold sculpture of a rhino.”
As a result of exceptional conservation efforts, current populations of African rhinos are currently estimated to be almost three times more than they were two decades ago and continue to grow despite the scourge of poaching. South Africa has been particularly successful in these efforts and is home to more than 80% of all African rhinos.
“Conservationists, through these successes, have managed to create a natural resource of considerable environmental, economic, social and cultural value. Unfortunately, it is exactly this value that has led to the demise of so many of Africa’s other natural resources. The fight to save Africa’s rhino’s should become a symbol of Africans taking greater ownership of our resources” Nel says.
In light of this, the illegal wildlife trade is one of the most lucrative international organised crimes. Lasse Gustavsson, Executive Director of Conservation for WWF-International, explains, “The criminal syndicates involved in illegal wildlife trade have also been implicated in murder, drug trafficking, arms proliferation and even terrorism.”
He adds, “This campaign is more than just saving species from extinction; it is about promoting the rule of law, protecting rangers and bringing an end to an illegal trade.”
WWF is appealing to its supporters and the general public through online activities designed to educate, empower and activate them on behalf of the campaign. Supporters will have the opportunity to join the conversation, provide their campaign ideas, and undertake direct advocacy with world leaders.