Rhinos, © Guy Standen

Horns Of Plenty

Rhino horns seized in federal crackdown on illegal wildlife trade

$1 million in cash. Gold bars. Diamonds. Rolex watches. 20 rhinoceros horns.

What do these items all have in common?

No, they’re not all items you’ll find in a billionaire’s home. They were all seized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and local law enforcements in a major crackdown on illegal wildlife trade. According to a story today in the LA Times, successful raids took place in a dozen states around the country last weekend.

International crime isn’t just about drug cartels and money-laundering. The international wildlife trade is worth billions of dollars annually, much of it totally illegal under both U.S. and international law.

The most recent enforcement action targeted smuggling rings that traffic rhinoceros horns, which are wrongly believed to cure cancer in Vietnam and China. As a result of the animal’s dwindling numbers, rhino horns are worth upwards of $20,000 per pound on the black market, or nearly $500,000 for a single horn.

But the problem goes far beyond rhinos. Defenders has been working hard in recent years to curb the illegal trade of sharks, parrots, sea turtles and frogs. Many of these species are threatened with extinction, yet still remain a valuable global commodity as food, in the pet trade, in traditional medicine, and for other purposes.

“We need stronger political will, more international cooperation and better consumer education in order to curb the illegal wildlife trade.” –Defenders International Counsel Alejandra Goyenechea

Unbeknownst to most Americans, the United States is one of the world’s largest markets for wildlife, both legal and illegal. In fact, we’re the largest importer and exporter of wildlife products, putting us right at the center of global wildlife trade.

That’s why our international wildlife expert Alejandra Goyenechea will be pushing for better enforcement of laws governing illegal wildlife trade at an important meeting this summer of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES).

“Unfortunately, illegal international wildlife trade is rarely detected and prosecuted due to lack of budget and manpower in countries around the globe. The penalties are relatively low in most countries as well, especially compared to drug and weapon trade,” says Alejandra. “We need stronger political will, more international cooperation and better consumer education in order to curb the illegal wildlife trade. Only tougher enforcement will save species from extinction.”

CITES protects more than 35,000 species worldwide and has members from 175 countries. It is one of the most effective international mechanisms in the world today for halting the trade in species threatened with extinction and in fostering sustainable use of other vulnerable species.

Click here to learn more about what Defenders is doing to stop the illegal wildlife trade.