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Poaching Threatens Asian Rhinos, says WWF - 2002-08-14

An international conservation group says an upsurge in poaching is threatening the survival of the Asian rhinoceros. The study by the World Wildlife Fund organization says the Asian rhino is being hunted to provide so-called traditional medicines.

The WWF report says only 2,900 horned rhinos remain in the wild in Asia. It says at least 86 of the animals have been killed by poachers in the past four years alone, mainly in India and Nepal.

A co-author of the report, Elizabeth Kempf, says the poached rhinos were shot, speared, poisoned, electrocuted or trapped in pits. "They are on the verge of extinction in Vietnam," she said. "There may only be three rhinos left in the country, and we suspect they may all be female. As far as Sumatra goes, they are in critical danger. Their numbers have halved over the last decade. The one bit of good news we have is that the greater Asian one-horned rhino appears to be stable."

Ms. Kempf says the poaching that is threatening the rhino with extinction is driven by a big demand for the use of the horn in traditional Asian medicine. She says people across Asia believe rhino horn can cure many illnesses and increase sexual potency in men.

"And so unscrupulous middlemen, unscrupulous dealers are soliciting the impoverished people that live in those areas to go out and kill the rhinos," said Ms. Kempf. "And so you have got tremendous land pressure in the areas where they are living - agricultural encroachment, logging. You have got coffee plantations. You have got a number of factors [such as] wood pulp plantations, oil palm plantations - all these threats combined. But, the main reason is the demand, the drive, the pursuit of the horn."

The report cites several conservation success stories. It says there were only one dozen greater one-horned rhinos in India's Kaziranga National Park about 100 years ago. But the park was protected since 1908 and the rhino population has grown to more than 1,500 today.

WWF's Elizabeth Kempf says governments must do more to protect the rhino from poachers if the animal is to survive.