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SOS Rhino : In the News : Current Rhino News : Conservation group says poaching pushing Asian rhino to extinction

Conservation group says poaching pushing Asian rhino to extinction

  Wed Aug 14, 3:25 AM ET

By JONATHAN FOWLER, Associated Press Writer

GENEVA - Pressure from poachers feeding the demand for traditional medicine is driving the Asian rhinoceros ever closer to extinction, the conservation group WWF International said Wednesday. Poachers have stepped up their illegal trade, killing at least 86 rhinos in the past four years, said WWF in a new report.

"Recently, 15 rhinos were killed in a five-month spate of poaching in Nepal, showing us that there is no room for complacency in our battle to save this species," said Elizabeth Kemf, co-author of the 24-page study.

Of the almost 18,000 wild rhinos worldwide, most live in Africa. But there are still 2,900 animals living wild in Asia, in countries from Nepal to Indonesia. The population ranges from just five rhinos in Vietnam to some 2,400 in Nepal and India combined.

Hunters slaughter the rhino mainly for its horn, an ingredient used in traditional Oriental medicine to treat illnesses ranging from fevers to nosebleeds.

The powdered horn is processed into tablets and tonics and is sold worldwide, mainly in China, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, South Korea ( news - web sites) and other countries where Chinese communities live, including the United States.

The horn is not considered an aphrodisiac, WWF said.
Both China and Taiwan have banned sales of rhino horn in the past two decades, but the law is widely ignored, according to WWF. A study by the group four years ago in the United States found medicines containing rhino horn and parts of other protected species in half the 110 traditional medicine stores surveyed in seven cities.

The Asian rhino also is under threat from logging, commercial plantations of oil palms, coffee or rubber, and forest clearance by people hungry for agricultural land. WWF said the changes make it easier for poachers to reach rhino habitats. The shrinking forest also concentrates the animals in ever-decreasing areas, leaving them more vulnerable to inbreeding and natural disasters like floods.
There are three species of Asian rhino: the greater one-horned rhino, the Javan and the Sumatran.

Vietnam's Javan rhinos are on the brink of extinction, WWF said. There are around five animals left in the country, maybe as few as three, and all of them are believed to be female, Kemf told The Associated Press.
In Indonesia there are no more than 60 Javans.

WWF said it had funded protection units which have successfully ended poaching of the Javan rhino, but remained seriously concerned by the species' low numbers.
There are some 300 Sumatran rhinos in Indonesia and Malaysia, and WWF said they were "under relentless pressure" from the hunters.

WWF and authorities in Nepal have worked to tackle poaching and move 72 rhinos to a new national park location to "minimize human/rhino conflicts" and establish a second population in the country. But the conservation organization said the 2,400 one-horned rhinos in Nepal and neighboring India were just as vulnerable as the animals in the other Asian nations

"Unless more money and effort goes into reducing the demand for traditional Asian medicine, anti-poaching, and curbing land conversion for oil palm, coffee and paper pulp, we risk losing these prehistoric yet majestic looking creatures forever," said Christy Williams, WWF's Asian rhino program coordinator.



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