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July 24, 2012

HSI Takes Rhino Poaching by the Horns in China

Humane Society International

  • A speaker explains the issues. HSI

  • Dr. Fowlds talks to a reporter as HSI's Peter Li stands by. HSI

  • HSI/UK's Mark Jones listens to his co-presenter. HSI

  • A rhino on the savannah. Josef Friedhuber/istock

by Peter J. Li, Susie Watts, and Mark Jones

On June 7, 2012, HSI took part in a series of presentations at a press conference at Beijing's National Aquatic Center, where we and our Chinese partner groups, Beijing Capital Animal Welfare Association (CAWA) and the Chinese Journalist Salon for Animal Protection (CJSAP), called on the Chinese public and authorities to help arrest the escalating rhino poaching crisis.

Appalling losses

Rhinos across Asia and Africa are suffering an unprecedented onslaught. South Africa alone has lost more than 1,000 of the animals to poachers since 2007—281 just since the beginning of 2012. They are slaughtered to feed the rising demand for rhino horn, perceived to have medicinal properties that can cure a range of illnesses, from general fevers to cancer and strokes. These scientifically unsubstantiated myths have gone viral in East and Southeast Asia. In November 2011, China, one of the top destinations for illegal rhino horn, intercepted 33 rhino horns that had been smuggled from South Africa to Hong Kong. Rhino horn carvings are increasingly being used as "prestige" gifts among the wealthy elite.

Illegal activities

China is a CITES signatory, its 1993 ban on rhino trade warmly welcomed by CITES. But illegal sales of rhino horns have not stopped.

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In June 2012, investigators found antique rhino horn carvings openly for sale at a market in Beijing. Chinese poachers, posing as trophy hunters, have entered the Indian forests and African bush in search of rhino horns. A Chinese company has even offered to trade arms for rhino horns with Indian rebel armies. Finally, some Chinese academics and businesspeople are farming rhinos, apparently planning to harvest their horns for sale as medicine. “This rhino farming proposal indicates that some of our scholars and businessmen are still living in the Middle Ages, “ commented Dan Zhang, co-founder of the Chinese Journalist Salon for Animal Protection, "not to mention that selling rhino horn is against the law in China."

Raising awareness

The Beijing press event was held to achieve three goals. First, we intended to bring the extent of the rhino crisis to the attention of the Chinese public. To this end, Dr. William Fowlds, a veterinarian from South Africa who has been fighting at the forefront of rhino protection, was invited to Beijing to share his personal experiences of the appalling suffering of rhinos whose faces are hacked off while the animals are immobilised but still alive. Susie Watts and Mark Jones also alerted the audience to the criminal gangs targeting rhino horns and items made of rhino horn in museums and auction houses around the world.

Second, we used the forum to encourage the Chinese public to challenge the fiction that rhino horn is a cure for illness. 

Finally, we called on Chinese authorities to reject the controversial rhino farming proposal that serves no conservation purpose but which will inflate Chinese demand for rhino horn and perpetuate the myth of its medicinal value.

Receptive audiences

Chinese reactions to HSI’s rhino protection appeal were very positive. Qin Xiaona, director of the Capital Animal Welfare Association, called on her compatriots to adopt a new attitude towards nature and wildlife in particular. The Student TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) Society of Tsinghua University, the nation’s top institution of higher learning, rejected the claim that wild animal parts, including rhino horns, were essential ingredients of TCM prescriptions. A student representative made similar remarks and Lin Shunjie, Deputy Secretary General of the Chinese Chamber of International Commerce, urged Chinese businesses to honor national wildlife protection laws and to be socially responsible in their business decision-making.

The press conference was broadcast on China national CCTV and Beijing TV.

The HSI team and Dr Fowlds also made presentations to approximately 80 students at China Agriculture University and had in-depth discussions with them about rhino protection. These students, who represent part of China’s future academic, business and political elite, were shocked to hear of the impact of demand for rhino horn on rhino populations, and committed to doing what they can to bring the crisis to an end. Give now to support our animal protection efforts.

Dr. Peter Li is China Specialist for HSI, Susie Watts is a consultant on wildlife issues and Mark Jones is executive director of HSI/UK.

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