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Indonesia has declared an international rhino “emergency” and urged SA and all rhino nations to join a global effort to prevent their extinction within the lifetime of the current human generation.
At the urging of conservation groups worldwide, President Susilo Yudhoyono of Indonesia declared yesterday to be the start of “International Year of the Rhino”, mainly to ensure the survival of two critically-threatened Asian rhino species.
Rhinos have walked the Earth for more than 50 million years but the total remaining number of Javan rhinos has sunk to fewer than 50 animals, while only about 200 Sumatran rhinos are still alive.
While the Indonesian president’s primary concern was to ensure the immediate survival of two of the five remaining rhino species internationally, Yudhoyono said he hoped all rhino range states in Africa and Asia would take similar action to protect rhinos worldwide from poaching by international crime syndicates.
“Strong and clear political messages from the highest possible levels are required to combat the illegal killing and trade in rhino and the message from President Yudhoyono is loud and clear,” said John Scanlon secretary-general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
“We hope that this bold initiative from Indonesia will serve as a catalyst for further high-level political support and commitments to protect rhino in the wild across all states concerned.”
The declaration follows the killing of another two white rhinos in the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park in KwaZulu-Natal last week, bringing the death toll in South Africa to well over 230 rhinos in the first five months of this year.
Yolan Friedman, head of the Joburg-based Endangered Wildlife Trust said the illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products was now the third-largest form of illegal trade in the world after drugs and human trafficking.
She said her organisation was proud to be working closely with several organisations which had called for the Year of the Rhino, in acknowledgement of “this international crisis”.
Tom Milliken, a senior official of the global wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, said the dramatic surge in rhino poaching was no longer due solely to demand from traditional Chinese medicine.
“The demand we are seeing now is linked with increased demand in Asia, particularly among wealthy elites and business people in Vietnam, where (rhino horn) carries prestige as a luxury item, as a post-partying (hangover) cleanser and also as a purported cancer cure,” said Milliken.
“It is critical that Africa’s law enforcement efforts are significantly scaled up and linked with enforcement and demand reduction efforts in consumer markets in Asia. We will only win this war if both sides align against the criminal syndicates behind this trade.”
President Yudhoyono’s declaration was welcomed by a wide variety of international conservation and scientific networks in statements issued yesterday.
Susie Ellis, executive director of the International Rhino Foundation warned that the threats to the survival of rhinos had increased dramatically over the past few years.
“This species has walked the Earth for more than 50 million years but there is now the very real possibility of extinction within our lifetime.”
The campaign will include intensive breeding programmes in zoos across the world and other international fund-raising efforts to improve law enforcement and education.