NEW DELHI: The surge of poaching of rhinoceros in South Africa could lead to threats to the one-horned Indian rhino in faraway Assam and West Bengal if the African country decides to go ahead and demand opening the international trade in rhino horns.
Speaking at the first stock taking meeting of the World Bank-led Global Tiger Recovery Programme in Delhi, Keshav Varma, programme director of the Global Tiger Initiative, warned that South Africa, unable to contain poaching, was inclined towards opening the trade in rhino horns. International trade in rhino horns is banned under the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Speciesof Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Rhino horns, which are costlier than gold today, fetch upwards of $50,000 per kg in the international market and are used in traditional oriental medicine systems.
Varma warned that if the South African proposal found support, the demand for horns from India could surge, leading to higher levels of poaching.
India is home to about 2,500 one-horned rhinos with the armour-plated animal found only in Assam and West Bengal and one patch - Dudhwa National Park in Uttar Pradesh. While poaching at one time threatened the animal in these patches, it has not suffered the kind of pressure the South African rhino faces where more than 400 rhinos were poached for their horns last year. This year, Varma said, South Africa had been losing rhinos at the rate of almost four a day.
Similar debates about opening up ivory trade in African nations had earlier led to heated negotiations at CITES with India wary that legalizing trade in the elephant tusks would lead to international and well-funded poaching networks getting active in Indian forests. With China farming tigers, the international conservation community has also been divided about satiating the demand for such exotic animal parts from farmed animals.