Rhino Poaching: Zim Probed by Interpol

by International Rhino Foundation

HARARE – Zimbabwe is among 18 countries being investigated for complicity in a racket involving the illegal trade in traditional medicines containing protected wildlife products, the International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) that is coordinating the probe has announced.

Interpol said last week that the operation – codenamed Operation Tram – saw national wildlife enforcement authorities, police, customs and specialised units from countries across five continents working together to combat illegal trade in traditional medicines made from animal parts.

Countries targeted under Operation Tram are Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Ecuador, France, Georgia, India, Italy, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe.

Interpol said its investigations into individuals and companies as well as inspections of premises such as seaports and wholesalers have so far discovered a large amount of medicines either containing or marketing the use of illegal ingredients such as tiger, bear and rhinoceros.

“This operation has again proved that while environmental criminals may cross borders and display high levels of organisation, so too will the international law enforcement community in its efforts to apprehend those criminals,” said David Higgins, manager of the Interpol Environmental Crime Programme.

The exercise has so far resulted in a series of arrests worldwide and the seizure of thousands of illegal medicines worth more than US$15 million.

Zimbabwe is also under tight scrutiny by the wildlife and flora watchdog, Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), amid allegations that high-ranking officials are suspected to be behind the country’s unacceptable rate of rhino poaching.

Rampant poaching – allegedly being spearheaded by senior government and army officers – has caused both black and white rhino populations to decline in Zimbabwe.

A December 2009 report by TRAFFIC and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) showed that since 2006, 95 percent of the poaching in Africa has occurred in Zimbabwe and South Africa.

The report also showed that the conviction rate for rhino crimes in Zimbabwe is only three percent.

The Interpol operation, coordinated by the organisation’s Environmental Crime Programme with support from the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit, was developed in response to the increasing use of endangered and protected wildlife products in traditional medicines throughout the world.

Most rhino horns leaving southern Africa are destined for medicinal markets in southeast and east Asia, especially Vietnam, where demand has escalated in recent years.

The demand for rhino horn is driven by an insatiable appetite in China and Vietnam where superstitions attribute medicinal properties to rhino horn.

China’s recent economic upswing has enabled an unprecedented number of citizens to afford “remedies” made from rhino horn, and from other endangered species.

Chinese pharmaceutical companies manufacture rhino horn into “medicines”, which are sold openly in pharmacies throughout China and in hospitals in Vietnam.

Contrary to popular belief, rhino horn is not used by the Chinese as an aphrodisiac.

Primitive superstitions – still widely believed in China and other parts of Asia – consider rhino horn to be a cure-all for common ailments such as fever, pain, and even acne.

Scientific testing has however proven that rhino horn has no medicinal effect on humans. – ZimOnline

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