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

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership 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.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid