Rhino horns trafficked with impunity: report

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In terms of weight, there has been an increase in the seizure of rhino horns after 2017, despite an overall reduction in poaching, says a global threat assessment report presented at a convention of wildlife conservation agencies in Panama City.

The report says that “prolific” Vietnamese and Chinese criminal networks drive the trafficking of the horns throughout the illegal supply chain globally.

But what has alarmed the wildlife crime fighters is the audacity with which the smugglers transport the rhino horns unconcealed, indicating that “corrupt elements” help the traffickers move the horn shipments without bothering to disguise the products.

A comprehensive analysis titled “Executive summary of the rhino horn trafficking as a form of transnational organised crime (2012-2021): 2022 global threat assessment” was presented at the meeting of the Conference of Parties organised by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Supported by the World Wide Fund for Nature, the Wildlife Justice Commission (WJC) prepared the document on the rhino horn trafficking during the decade from January 1, 2012, to December 31, 2021.

“More than 7.5 tonnes of rhino horns were seized globally during the decade. The average shipment weight increased markedly after 2017, despite a reduction in rhino poaching across Africa and the COVID-19 pandemic. This could indicate a greater involvement of organised crime groups as larger volumes of product are moved to increase profit margins per shipment,” the report said.

The threat assessment was compiled from the analysis of 674 rhino horn seizure incidents that had occurred globally during this decade, in addition to seven years of criminal intelligence and findings from the WJC investigations into the rhino horn trafficking, conducted since 2015.

The report said six countries and territories have dominated the rhino horn trafficking routes from the source to the destination locations, though more than 50 countries and territories were implicated in the transnational crime. These countries were South Africa, Mozambique, Malaysia, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Vietnam, and China.

“Prolific Vietnamese and Chinese criminal networks are driving the trafficking throughout the supply chain. Although Vietnam is known to be the primary destination for rhino horn, investigations indicate a substantial proportion of the horn entering Vietnam is sold to Chinese buyers and smuggled overland into China,” the report said.

The analysis indicated that at least 974 kg and potentially up to one-third of all the seized rhino horns, globally originated from the theft or illegal sale of both privately owned and government owned legally held stockpiles.

“Rhino horns are most frequently smuggled on commercial airlines. However, the modus operandi is shifting from small shipments in passenger luggage to larger shipments by air cargo,” the report said.

“Rhino horn shipments are most often smuggled with no concealment at all, which is a notable difference from the other wildlife products and illicit commodities generally. It could suggest traffickers are more reliant on corrupt elements to move rhino horn shipments through the supply chain, making it unnecessary to disguise the products,” it added.