Africa Losing the Battle against Rhino Poachers

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Jones takes his example from the diamond market. Since around 50 countries began requiring a certificate attesting to the origin of each diamond, he says, it's been possible to significantly curtail the trade in "blood diamonds."

Practically speaking, Jones continues, verifying the origin of rhinoceros-horn substances would be easy. For the last two years, the Faculty of Veterinary Science at the University of Pretoria has been assembling an extensive databank of rhinoceros DNA, which now includes thousands of samples.

An Alarming Discovery

Jones' suggestion has sparked an ideological battle among experts. "Rhinoceros owners are just looking to make a fortune with this," says Miranda Jordan of Activists for Animals Africa. "Deregulation would only increase the trade." Major animal-welfare organizations also consider the rhino-owners' plan to be motivated by self-interest.

Research conducted by Swiss conservationist Karl Ammann provides further cause for concern. Ammann purchased 20 samples of supposed rhinoceros horn from markets in Hanoi, Vietnam, and Vientiane, Laos, and then had the samples analyzed at the University of Pretoria. It was the first time that rhino-horn material being traded in Asia had come under the microscopes of South African scientists.

The scientists were shocked by what they found: Only three of the objects studied actually came from rhinos. The rest came from water buffalo, sheep and, in one case, a saiga antelope. "These results are alarming," says Cindy Harper, director of the Onderstepoort Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the University of Pretoria. "They indicate that the demand for rhinoceros-horn material is much higher than we believed."

These results may also deliver a serious setback to proponents of deregulation. The amount of rhinoceros horn available even in a country as rhino-rich as South Africa is limited -- but the hunger for it seems to be insatiable.

Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein

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