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Conservationists Say Tiger, Rhinoceros Threatened by Illegal Hunting

Conservationists say new strategies must be devised to protect animals, such as the rhinoceros and tiger, from extinction. Hundreds of delegates who attended a meeting by CITES, the Convention on International Trade In Endangered Species, are urging tougher police action to stop the lucrative illegal trade in endangered species.

The Convention on International Trade In Endangered Species oversees the implementation of trade rules for the recovery of nearly 900 endangered species. Topping the list of concerns is the rhinoceros.

The chief of CITES' enforcement unit, John Sellar, calls the illegal trade in Rhino horns the greatest criminal threat facing the organization. "It involves very sophisticated organized crime. It involves huge sums of money. It involves both the poaching of these species, but also the exploitation of legal hunting," he said.

Sellar says CITES recently asked the international law enforcement community for help because this is not just a problem involving wildlife.

He says rhinoceros horn smuggling from Africa to Asia is widespread. He says evidence shows criminal networks are using sophisticated techniques to circumvent currency controls through money laundering. He says diplomatic immunity is abused to perpetrate these crimes. "It truly is an international problem at the moment. The rhino populations in southern Africa are really getting hammered by poachers. You know within the last year, we have probably seen somewhere in the region of 200 rhinos killed. And, in some countries, the population sizes simply cannot sustain that. If you look at the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, the species may very well be extinct there," he said.

Sellar says there is a great demand for rhino horn in East Asia, especially in China and Vietnam, where it is used in traditional medicine.

CITES also is very concerned about the fate of the tiger. In the last century, there were more than 100,000 tigers throughout Asia. Now, it is believed no more than 4,000 of these animals are roaming in the wild.

Sellar says conservation efforts have failed miserably and tigers continue to move closer to extinction. One rare success story, he notes is found in the far east of Russia.

He says strong law enforcement work has saved the tiger there. He says a specialized enforcement team, which brought together people from a variety of policing, military and hunting backgrounds, was established. "And frankly, these are guys that when you meet them, you realize these are people that mean business. They are not the sort of men that you would want to meet in a dark alley late at night. But, that is exactly the type of person you need to come up against the individuals that are engaged in poaching and illegal trade," he said.

Delegates at the CITES conference agree. They say it would be possible to make huge inroads into this problem if governments would commit themselves to focus on law enforcement efforts.

Unfortunately, they note the poaching and illegal trade in endangered species is not recognized as a mainstream crime. Therefore, they say, the political will to make this a priority is lacking.