With around 29,000 rhinos left in the world and rates of poaching skyrocketing, governments need to crack down on this gruesome trade in any way they can.

And cracking down means working together. After all what’s the point of stepping up efforts in South Africa if Zimbabwe and Mozambique, which share a huge transnational park with their neighbor, don’t up their efforts as well? While South Africa is home to most of the rhinos and therefore the majority of poaching, their security is also tighter than, say, Mozambique. After a group of 15 rhinos recently crossed from South Africa into Mozambique they were promptly poached, effectively wiping out the last rhinos left in the Southeast African nation. Mozambique is more lenient against poachers and reportedly has lax security. Park rangers are also paid less than in South Africa and are therefore more easily corrupted by poachers.

Healthy rhinos in Kruger Park, South Africa. Pic: Brian Scott (Flickr CC)

That’s the supply side, now what about demand? China and particularly Vietnam have been singled out for their consumption of illegal rhino horn. Demand in these countries is growing along with the burgeoning middle classes. Among a certain section of affluent Chinese and Vietnamese, rhino horn is considered a status symbol, aphrodisiac and cancer cure. A recent WWF campaign points out that rhino horn is made of the same stuff as human nails (keratin) and is just as effective as a medicine, i.e., not effective at all.

So the NGOs are doing their bit in places like Vietnam, Thailand and China, where the conservation effort has received a helping hand in the form of former NBA star Yao Ming. But what about the governments of these countries?

Vietnam, at least, may be starting to finally get its act together. A recent seizure of seven kilos of rhino horn by customs officials may not sound like much, but seven kilos means two rhinos were killed. And at $5,000 a gram, that’s a considerable amount of product that will never enter the market – two rhino horns that could never be of any use to anyone except the rhinos who were killed for them.

From AFP:

The two horns, believed to have come from Africa and worth an estimated $365,000, were found hidden in the luggage of a passenger who arrived in Ho Chi Minh City on a flight from Doha on Sunday, the southern city’s Phap Luat newspaper reported.

Vietnam has also agreed to cooperate with the principal source country for illegal rhinoceros horn, South Africa. The two will exchange names of registered hunters in order to stop smugglers posing as trophy hunters. Why South Africa doesn’t simply ban the trophy hunting of Rhinos as well is another question, but I think the answer lies in the bulging pockets of a small collection of game wardens and politicians.

From another AFP report:

Records of rhino hunting permits show Asians are the largest group of applicants.

Thirteen out of 41 permits granted in KwaZulu-Natal province from 2009 to 2011 went to Vietnamese.

The countries’ cooperation plan includes setting up a gene bank and DNA analysis training to track confiscated horns.

Again, pretty straightforward stuff. South Africa should just ban the hunt and they then won’t have to worry about racially profiling Vietnamese trophy hunters or conducting expensive DNA analyses to distinguish legal trophies from poached horn.

Read more on that story here.

A victim of poaching in Kruger Park. Pic: John Karwoski (Flickr CC)