|Rhinos have been decimated by poaching. Credit: USFWS|
People don’t often think about it, but even sales of antiques made from endangered plants or animals can hurt the survival of those species. Antiques can raise demand for similar products, which really just feeds the destruction of those animals.
A global black market hungers for rhino horn – an NBC report last year estimated the value of rhino horns at $25,000 a pound. They are used in Asian medicines on the misguided notion that they cure diseases, even cancer … of course, no scientific evidence supports that they really do any of that. Rhino horns are made of keratin, the same stuff that makes up hair and fingernails. They are also a sought-after carving material for ceremonial dagger handles and libation cups.
Poaching numbers for rhino jump every day, it seems. Wildlife authorities reported a rhino “death toll” of 668 for South Africa alone in 2012, a level of illegal take that translates roughly into a rhino being killed every 12 or so hours. This year, it’s even worse. As of April 3, 203 rhinos have already been poached in South Africa in 2013.
A few days after my taping, members of our Law Enforcement Office conducted a workshop on wildlife protection laws for 70 Antiques Roadshow appraisers.
We got involved with Antiques Roadshow after one of its appraisers evaluated five rhino horn libation cups for a 2012 episode. The estimated value of the cups set a record for the series. The appraiser also told the owner that rhinos are a protected species and that laws affect the buying and selling of rhino parts and products.
We need to take innovative steps like our partnership with Antiques Roadshow as we fight to make sure rhinos and other endangered species have a place in our world.
|An Antiques Roadshow appraiser evaluated five rhino horn libation cups for a 2012 episode. Credit: Antiques Roadshow|
We support on-the-ground conservation of rhinos in Asia and Africa through administration of the Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Fund. This fund provides grants to strengthen protection of rhinos, conduct surveys of populations and habitat, develop management capacity, carry out environmental education and awareness campaigns, involve local communities in conservation activities, and develop alternative livelihoods.
There has been good news in the rhino crisis lately.
We just enlisted four Wildlife Detector Dogs to help sniff out illegal wildlife shipments at our ports. And at the recently ended Conference of the Parties for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), proposals were adopted to help rhino range states and consumer countries more effectively combat poaching and illegal rhino horn trade.
And going back to February of last year, we took a giant stand for rhinos and brought down an international rhino horn-smuggling ring in Operation Crash. Agents involved in Operation Crash seized 37 rhinoceros horns, products made from horns, approximately $1 million in cash and $1 million in gold. The investigation and prosecutions are continuing to halt smugglers. Fourteen people have been arrested to date on charges that include conspiracy, smuggling, money laundering, tax evasion, bribery, and violations of the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act. Six of these people have pleaded guilty.
We all have a part to play in rhino conservation. Antiques buyers must be certain that what they are buying is really a legitimate antique. People can call 1-800-344-WILD if they see suspicious sales of endangered animals and plants or if they are uncertain about laws involving sales. It’s up to us.