World Rhino Day – A closer look at rhinoceros wildlife trafficking

Bojan Karadzic by Bojan Karadzic | Sep 22, 2019

World Rhino Day (22 September) celebrates all five species of rhinoceros:

  • Black
  • White
  • Greater one-horned
  • Sumatran
  • Javan

Since its inception in 2010, World Rhino Day has grown into an international success bringing together conservation organizations, industry, and governments from all over the world with the goal of ending rhino poaching and trafficking.

Gravity and underlying causes of rhinoceros trafficking

World Rhino Day is imperative in raising awareness of the grave impact rhinoceros poaching has had on the species. There are several urban myths surrounding the rhinoceros horn that claim it has medicinal properties ranging from curing cancers, relieving hangovers, and enhancing male virility. These myths are deeply rooted in the urban folklore of certain Asian cultures, with China and Vietnam being the top two consumer markets. Recently, with the rising middle class and increased purchasing power of Chinese and Vietnamese consumers, the status-driven consumption of the rhino horn has been driving the species towards extinction. In fact, there are less than 100 Sumatran rhinos and Javan rhinos in existence, with approximately 1,300 African rhinos illegally poached every year. This equals to 1 rhino killed every 7 hours, and 3 rhinos poached every day in South Africa alone. Rhinos are one of the most threatened large mammals on the planet. Due to the socio-cultural influence of this wildlife product with Asian consumers, it has created a lucrative opportunity for black market criminals and wildlife poachers to profit from these magnificent creatures.

The African Rhino stands at 1.5 meters high at the shoulder and is 3.5 meters long. The Rhinoceros can reach a weight of up to 3,600kg. They are herbivores and their diet consists of grazing on grasses and plucking fruits and leaves from branches.
A mother rhino and her calf. Did you know a rhino’s gestation period can last 15-18 months?

The rhinoceros and the aviation sector

The aviation supply chain is a major mode of transport exploited by wildlife traffickers to ship illegal plant and animal products to black-market consumers across the globe. The aviation industry has been partnering with conservation organizations and government agencies to disrupt wildlife trafficking and develop industry-specific approaches in order to eradicate the transport of illegal wildlife and wildlife products. 

Between 2009-2019, there have been approximately 2.7 tonnes (2,670 kg) of rhino horn seized in the air transport sector alone. Statistics show that traffickers trying to smuggle rhino horns have been stopped in airports every three weeks across 29 different countries since 2009. To further add to these jarring statistics, rhino horn seizures in air transport almost tripled between 2016-2017. The aviation industry, along with key partners, is working together to protect the species from extinction.  

The industry and partners’ efforts against rhino trafficking

O.R. Tambo International Airport, servicing the greater Johannesburg/Pretoria region in Gauteng Province, South Africa, is a major target for the smuggling of rhino horn in the entire southern African region. Since 2008, a permanent enforcement unit made up of Special Investigations officers of the Compliance and Enforcement Branch of Gauteng’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development have worked to thwart contraband wildlife products from entering or leaving the country. In fact, South Africa represents 80% of the world rhino population, with the remaining 20% spread through other parts of southern Africa and on the Indonesian island of Java.

Most recently, in June 2019 authorities in Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport have intercepted 125kg of smuggled rhino horns worth US$7.5 million, or roughly US$60 thousand per kilo of smuggled horn. Similarly, in February 2019 authorities of Hong Kong International Airport seized US$1 million worth of rhino horn, in transit to Ho Chi Minh City from Johannesburg.

Getting involved

World Rhino Day allows us to reflect on the importance of conserving wildlife. ACI strives to increase awareness and provide guidance on actions to eradicate the illegal trade of rhino horns through its Wildlife Trafficking Task Force.

How to Combat the Illegal Wildlife Trade
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Bojan Karadzic

Bojan Karadzic

Intern, Communications, ACI World
Bringing over eight years of industry experience, Bojan works alongside major NGOs and ACI Global Partners studying wildlife trafficking within the aviation transport supply chain. A McGill University alumnus, Bojan holds a post-graduate degree in Integrated Aviation Management and his passion for aviation comes together with his research and analytical skills.
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