‘Asia driving elephants, rhinos to extinction’ – WWF

Thai customs officials show confiscated elephant tusks during a press conference at the customs office of Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok on July 17, 2012. (AFP Photo/Pornchai KittIwongsakul)
Asia’s prolific black market in animal parts is pushing elephant, tiger and rhino populations to extinction at an unbridled rate, reports WWF. Exotic animal parts are highly valued in the region,coveted for their supposed curative properties.

In a report released on Monday, the WWF cited record killings of animals in Africa and 23 countries in both Africa and Asia where the animal parts were bartered for trade. The document will be presented at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Geneva this week.

Vietnam, Laos and Mozambique are the countries that do the least in the fight against animal killings, according to the report.

"Last year had the largest number of elephants poached in Africa on record," said Wendy Elliott, WWF Global Species program manager in an interview. She added that “there is a growing involvement of organized crime in the trade,” alluding to the multiple seizures of elephant ivory of more than 800kg in Africa.

The document said that Vietnam was a major destination for animal parts poached in Africa, as well as China and Thailand. The WWF accused the countries of not doing enough to crack down on the thriving black market trade of endangered species and thus proliferating African poaching.

"It is time for Vietnam to face the fact that its illegal consumption of rhino horn is driving the widespread poaching of endangered rhinos in Africa," said WWF's global species program manager, Elizabeth McLellan.

The report traced the rhino horn trade back to South Africa, which it branded as the epicenter for rhino poaching with a record 448 killed in the country in 2011. The organization also raised concerns that this year could be worse as 262 rhinos had already reportedly been poached from January to June.

Many Asian cultures highly prize elephant ivory and rhino horns for the decorative and supposed medicinal properties.

The conservation group praised China in the report for its efforts to stem the rhino horn trafficking, but underlined that along with Thailand it is still one of the world’s worst offenders in the black market of elephant ivory.

The WWF criticized a Thai law that allows the trade of domesticated elephant ivory, saying that it was almost indistinguishable from African ivory.

The report signaled that the rapidly diminishing tiger population was of special concern, “with as few as 3,200 tigers remaining in the wild.”

While recognizing that progress made in putting the brakes on the illicit trade of tiger parts, the WWF underlined the fact that over 200 tiger carcasses are found on the black market on a yearly basis.

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Setting an example

The WWF has withdrawn Spanish King Juan Carlos’ honorary status as president of the organization’s Spanish chapter after he went on an elephant hunting trip in Botswana.

The King faced public uproar when news of the trip came to light in April of this year. The king was subsequently obliged to make an official apology.

"Although this type of hunting is legal and regulated, many members consider it to be incompatible with the position of honorary patron of an international organization that aims to protect the environment," the WWF statement said on Saturday.

Spain′s King Juan Carlos on a previous safari in Botswana posing in front of an elephant he killed on the trip.Image from www.loveknysna.com
Spain's King Juan Carlos on a previous safari in Botswana posing in front of an elephant he killed on the trip.Image from www.loveknysna.com