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

Israelis Quietly Expand Enclave in Palestinian District of Jerusalem

Estimated 500 settlers, armed or protected by paramilitary police, live in Silwan among 50,000 Palestinians More

Video US, Iran Face Similar Challenges in Syrian Fight Against IS

Both Washington, Tehran back fighters battling Islamic State militants in Iraq -- but in Syria they support opposing sides in country’s civil war More

China Boosts Efforts to Help Afghan, Regional Stability

Observers say China’s increased regional involvement are due to concerns that Afghan instability and the presence of anti-China militants in Pakistani border areas could fuel Xinjiang troubles 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.
China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Lawi
X
William Ide
October 20, 2014 10:23 AM
China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Nigeria Agrees to Cease-Fire With Boko Haram

Islamist militant group Boko Haram and the Nigerian government have agreed to a cease-fire. The Nigerian government issued an order Friday, telling all military chiefs "to comply with the cease-fire agreement in all theaters of operations. Why now and the significance of the agreement are questions on some people’s minds. VOA's Mariama Diallo reports.
Video

Video Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

The offensive by Islamic State militants against the northern Syrian city of Kobani has caused hundreds of thousands of residents to flee to Turkey. They receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from the town of Suruc a few kilometers from the border.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.

All About America

AppleAndroid