News / Africa

US Targets Traffickers as Rhino Horn Value Soars

Rhinos with cut horns on a farm owned by Dawie Groenewald, who, along with two veterinary surgeons, is accused of rhino poaching, Musina, Limpopo province, South Africa, May 9, 2012.Rhinos with cut horns on a farm owned by Dawie Groenewald, who, along with two veterinary surgeons, is accused of rhino poaching, Musina, Limpopo province, South Africa, May 9, 2012.
x
Rhinos with cut horns on a farm owned by Dawie Groenewald, who, along with two veterinary surgeons, is accused of rhino poaching, Musina, Limpopo province, South Africa, May 9, 2012.
Rhinos with cut horns on a farm owned by Dawie Groenewald, who, along with two veterinary surgeons, is accused of rhino poaching, Musina, Limpopo province, South Africa, May 9, 2012.
Ivan Broadhead
By prioritizing the arrest of rhino-horn traffickers, the United States is signaling its ongoing commitment to the eradication of wildlife-related crime. Through stiff prison sentences and tactics like seizure of financial assets, authorities are moving aggressively to protect the world’s endangered rhino.

For those who may dismiss the seriousness of wildlife smuggling, U.S. special agent Edward Grace has a startling figure. He says the value of wildlife crime is estimated at up to $8 billion a year, making it the most lucrative illegal activity after arms and drugs trafficking.

Deputy chief of law enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Grace says the same criminal syndicates peddling weapons and narcotics are driving species such as the rhino toward extinction.

Dwindling species

Rhino poaching in South Africa, 2007-2012Rhino poaching in South Africa, 2007-2012
x
Rhino poaching in South Africa, 2007-2012
Rhino poaching in South Africa, 2007-2012
“Criminals see the wildlife trade as low risk, high profit," said Grace. "Get caught smuggling a kilo of heroin, you will probably go to jail for the rest of your life if; smuggle a kilo of rhino horn, which nowadays is worth more than heroin or gold, in several countries worldwide you may only go to jail for a couple of years."

The plights of Africa’s Black and White rhinos are well known. In Asia, Vietnam lost its last Javan rhino in 2010, and it now is believed that fewer than 200 of the Sumatran subspecies have survived.
 
In response, the U.S. recently launched Operation Crash — "crash" is the collective noun for rhinos — in which more than 200 federal agents are targeting illegal commerce of the animal’s horn.

“When organized crime gets involved in any wildlife trade, they have the resources and the networks," said Grace. "So we make it a priority to go after these networks because they have the ability to do a lot of damage in a very short period of time."

Tougher sentencing

Criminals dealing rhino horn are on notice that soft-sentencing is a thing of the past. In the last few weeks alone, two men with links to Vietnam were successfully convicted after an Operation Crash sting.
 
Jimmy and Felix Kha — found guilty of procuring horn, tax evasion and other offenses under the Lacey Act, one of the world’s oldest wildlife protection laws — are both facing up to 20-year terms in prison.
 
“We will continue this effort for as long as it takes to identify, apprehend and jail every bad guy engaged in this illicit trade in rhino horn," said Joseph Johns, chief of the environmental crimes section in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, California. "And we do expect more very significant arrests and sweeps to take place with regard to Operation Crash  in the next year.”
 
Targeting profits

To improve the odds of saving the rhino, Operation Crash is not simply targeting low-paid middlemen and couriers. Instead, Johns explains, agents are pursuing the bosses behind the trade, seizing their cars, homes and gold deposits, and draining their bank accounts of millions of dollars in cash.
 
“The goal is not just to punish the crime, but take the profit out of it," he said. "We want to eliminate this [crime] in this generation. We call them endangered species for a reason. We cannot just wait and sit on our hands.”
 
The U.S. has a proven record helping the recovery of species on the verge of extinction. In the 1980s, federal agencies were key players in eradicating the illegal caviar trade, saving the Caspian sturgeon.
 
However, the U.S. also is the world’s second largest wildlife market after China. As such, Johns says the country needs to be doubly committed to protecting endangered animals.
 
“It is ironic. On one hand, developed nations have the luxury to put in place environmental regulations and actually enforce them, protecting endangered species. But the flip side of that is that individuals in developed nations also have the monetary wealth to acquire and consume endangered species,” he said.

Calls for international cooperation

Besides the Khas, Operation Crash has netted a Chinese wildlife dealer, a cowboy, and an antiques expert, among others.
 
Such arrests highlight the international nature and diversity of wildlife criminals. Faced with such a global challenge, agent Grace says a transnational response is required.
 
“This is a crisis, and we are working with Interpol, with law enforcement in Africa and Asia," said Grace. "It is not a problem that will be solved by one country, but by numerous countries working together.”
 
As conservationists across Africa and Asia fight to save the rhino, U.S. law enforcement says it is committed to going after the criminal networks that profit from the poaching.

Listen to report on poaching
Listen to report on poachingi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

 

You May Like

Beloved Lion Killing Sparks Virtual, Real Life Outrage

Twitter, as usual, was epicenter for anger directed at Palmer, with some questioning his manhood, calling for him to be released into the wild More

Video Booming London Property Market a Haven for Dirty Money

Billions of dollars from proceeds of crime, especially from Russia, being laundered through London property market, according to anti-corruption activists More

Video Scouts' Decision on Gays Meets Acceptance in Founder's Hometown

One former Scout leader thinks organization will move past political, social debate, get back to its primary focus of turning boys into good citizens More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Scouts' Decision on Gays Meets Acceptance in Founder's Hometown

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs