|| Wed Aug 14, 3:25 AM ET
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
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
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.