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Why do people steal rhino horn?

Members of a gang linked to Limerick were sentenced yesterday.

South Africa Rhino Survivor Source: AP/Press Association Images

YESTERDAY, MEMBERS OF a Limerick crime gang were jailed in England for a plot to steal €73 million worth of jade and rhino horn.

The “Rathkeale Rovers” gang received sentences of between four and nearly seven years for the plot.

But, how is rhino horn so valuable? 

The answer lies, largely, in China.

There is high demand for rhino horns in China, where they are used in highly controversial preparations of traditional Chinese medicine.

In recent years, prices of drinking cups made of sculpted rhinoceros horns also have soared in the Chinese art market.

The horn is composed mainly of keratin, the same component as in human nails, but it is sold in powdered form as a supposed cure for cancer and other diseases


Just last month, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said that 1,300 rhinos in Africa had been poached last year.

Trade in rhino horns was banned in 1977 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), an international treaty created in 1973 to protect wildlife against over-exploitation, and ensure that trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

But it was only banned in 2008 in South Africa,which is said to be home to 20,000 rhinos or 80% of the world’s rhino population.

That ban, and demand from the east, is spiking demand from Africa, and with the horn fetching around €55,000 a kilo criminal gangs are only too willing to oblige.

The impact

South Africa Rhinos Source: AP/Press Association Images

Of the five species of rhino in the world, four are listed as either critically endangered or vulnerable, with some estimates saying there are just 2,500 black rhinos left. The Javan and one-horned rhinos, found in Indonesia, have around 60 and 100 left respectively.

With just 20,000 white rhinos left, South African farmers are asking the government to legalise the trade to fend off poachers.

Legally dehorning a rhino would see a farm owner put the animal under anaesthesia then saw off the horn.

Each horn would require its own permit that would be recorded in a database.

But that is, in itself controversial.

“This step is being considered for financial rather than conservation reasons,” says the Save The Rhino group.

Attitudes towards the trade have shifted in Africa, however, with Kenya set to burn its ivory and rhino horn stockpile later this month.

The highly publicised display on April 30 will be led by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and attended by a gaggle of celebrities, conservationists and heads of state. Kenya Environment Minister Judi Wakhungu says that shutting down the trade would be good for the planet in many ways.

“Poaching is facilitated by international criminal syndicates and fuels corruption.”

Read: People are not impressed by Michael Flatley’s rhino horn

Read: ‘Rathkeale Rovers’ gang sentenced for €73m museum crime plot

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