Rhino horn trafficking as a form of transnational organised crime 2012-2021

Stephen Wiggins Studies Leave a Comment

Poaching rates across Africa have decreased by more than 50% since the peak in 2015, but they remain high, at equivalent levels seen at the start of the crisis. Poached horns from South Africa continue to be a key source for the illicit supply chain. Investigations indicate the main consumer market is China where rhino horn is in demand primarily as luxury carved products sought-after for their rarity as collectable items and for the prestige of ownership. Vietnam continues to be a key market, while also being a crucial gateway for rhino horn trade into China. Only a small proportion of horn is in demand for medicinal purposes, usually sourced from the offcuts and leftover pieces following the carving process.”

South Africa was linked to half of all rhino horns seized globally over the past 10 years and Vietnam to just over one quarter. Although these results may be expected given South Africa has the world’s largest rhino population, the consistent level of trafficking implicating these two countries could indicate the extent to which criminality is embedded in both. Barring a few recent and notable exceptions, the lack of prosecutions and convictions of high-level criminals has allowed the transnational organised crime networks to continue their operations with minimal disruption.”

Rhino horn trafficking as a form of transnational organised crime 2012-2021,” 2022 Global Threat Assessment, Wildlife Justice Commission


Note: “Since 2016, at least 974 kg of rhino horns seized in 11 incidents were confirmed as originating from the theft or illegal sale of horns from legal stocks, including both privately-owned and government-owned stockpiles. These incidents represent 18% of all rhino horns seized during the period from 2016-2021. The seizures included high profile cases such as 181 horns seized in South Africa in 2019 from private rhino breeder John Hume’s stocks; 19 horns seized in South Africa in 2021 linked to game farmer Dawie Groenewald but originating from a government stockpile; and a 250 kg shipment of rhino horn in China in 2019 that included 70 microchipped horns. Further analysis of the seizure data indicated an additional 1,546 kg of rhino horns across the entire 10-year period could also potentially represent diversion from legal stockpiles, which together with the confirmed instances would amount to up to 2,520 kg, or up to one third of all rhino horns seized globally” “Significant amounts of harvested horns from legal stockpiles are diverted into illegal trade, “Rhino horn trafficking as a form of transnational organised crime 2012-2021,” page 11, Wildlife Justice Commission

Further Reading

Will legal international rhino horn trade save wild rhino populations?,” Eikelboom et al., Science Direct, Global Ecology and Conservation, Vol. 23, September 2020 – “…we conclude that legalizing rhino horn trade will likely negatively impact the remaining wild rhino populations.”

Submission to South Africa’s High-Level Panel – elephant, lion, leopard and rhinoceros,” IWB, 15 April 2020

Rhino Horn Trade – Public Consultation,” IWB, 2 September 2019

Stop the Illegal Wildlife Trade: Corrupt officers, diplomats and prosecutors – inside Asia’s deadly rhino horn market,” The Independent, 12 February 2021

Scrutinizing Ranchers’ Arguments For Legal Rhino Horn Trade,” Jared Kakura, Wild Things Initiative, 11 November 2019

Cops recover 100 rhino horns, four tiger carcasses, guns and ammunition during raids,” News24, 27 November 2019

Trading in rhino horn is not going to solve our extinction crisis,” Ross Harvey, Daily Maverick, 15 October 2019

Top rhino rancher running out of options after property auction flop,” Ed Stoddard, Daily Maverick, 25 September 2019

Stop The Slaughter – Close Down Domestic Rhino Horn Markets,” Environmental Investigation Agency, August 2019

Rhinos: Trade in horn and increase trophy hunting, says Minister. Have your say, within 30 days,” Africa Geographic, 26 August 2019

A Reverse Listing System Saves Human Lives; So, Why Not Endangered Species?,” Nature Needs More, 26 August 2019

Quo vadis South Africa’s rhino rancher supreme?” Daily Maverick, 22 August 2019

South Africa pushes for trade in endangered wildlife,” Andreas Wilson-Spath, Daily Maverick, 19 August 2019

Who’s Actually Killing and ‘Making a Killing’ from Rhino?,” IWB, 19 April 2016



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