WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the southern white rhino as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in an effort to curb poaching and illegal trade in rhino horns and other parts.
The agency used the “similarity of appearance” provisions of the ESA to implement the interim regulation because differentiating between the horns and body parts of different species is difficult, with items from endangered rhino species routinely being passed off as those of the previously unprotected southern white rhino.
Rhino horn was historically used by Chinese traditional medicine (TCM) practitioners for health issues such as fevers, convulsions and delirium. China became a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 1981. Bowing to international pressure, China enacted its own prohibitions on the trade of rhino horn in 1993, and has since discouraged the use of the horns for medicine.
Recently, there has been a resurgence of the use of the horns in Asia due to an unfounded belief that they have value as a cancer treatment. “Although this rumor has been widely repudiated by the western scientific and medical community as well as by the TCM community, this rumor has contributed to the increased demands on the illegal market and has thus promoted the illegal poaching of rhinos,” the action noted.
The horns are also used to fashion “libation cups” and other carved goods, such as dagger handles, which have historically held symbolic significance in Chinese and Middle Eastern cultures, the agency said.
The black market pays up to $65,000 per kilogram for the rhino horns, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. “Rhino horns move rapidly across international borders, evading detection through well-resourced, organized, politically powerful syndicates,” the action stated.
Before this listing action, the southern white was the only rhino that was not listed under the ESA. The Javan, Sumatran, northern white, Indian, and black rhinos are all listed as endangered under the act.
“Rhino horn shape and color vary depending on a variety of factors. Although extensive research has been conducted and published regarding the chemical and genetic composition of rhino horns from each of these species, generally these differences cannot be detected visually by law enforcement personnel,” according to the action. Additionally, the horns are often ground into powders or carved into objects, and the horns vary in size due to age and gender as well as species. Genetic testing is the only definite method of linking the horn to a species.
There is “significant demand” for the rhino parts in the United States “for movement into the Asian black market,” so extending ESA protection to the southern white rhino will “substantially facilitate” law enforcement agents in slowing illegal trade, and will close a loophole in the act’s protections for rhinos, the agency said.
The agency determined that immediate protections are needed due to the critically low abundance levels and restrictive ranges of all rhino species and determined that a waiver of the usual 30-day comment period was appropriate. Comments will still be accepted, however.
The interim rule is effective Sept. 11. Comments are due by Oct. 11.
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