In response to the poaching crisis that continues to threaten rhinos, the U.S. has announced the southern white rhino will now be getting protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Four of the five rhino species still living in the wild–including the black, Sumatran, Indian and Javan rhinos–are already fully protected as endangered under the ESA.
Unfortunately for white rhinos, who live mainly in South Africa and have been left without protection and destructive genetic testing, it’s difficult or impossible to tell the difference between their horns and horn products with those that come from protected species. This loophole has allowed traffickers to get away with mislabeling products to avoid restrictions on sales and transport, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).
Thanks to this move, white rhinos will be immediately protected under the “similarity of appearance” provision of the ESA, which is intended to “aid international law enforcement efforts to fight poaching and crack down on trafficking in rhino horn.” There will now be a total ban on importing products made from rhinos into the U.S., in addition to a ban on the sale or offer for sale in interstate commerce of white rhinos.
“As both a transit point and consumer destination for illegal rhino horn products, the United States plays a vital role in curbing poaching and wildlife trafficking. Along with extending protection to the southern white rhino, we’re evaluating additional regulatory and policy options in an effort to strengthen our ability to investigate and prosecute poachers and traffickers,” said FWS Director Dan Ashe in a press release. “We have a long history in working to curb the illegal wildlife trade, and are committed to working with international law enforcement agencies to address current and emerging challenges.”
For rhinos, poaching has become a serious crisis threatening their future survival. According to the FWS, 668 rhinos were killed last year and another 446 were killed in just the first six months of this year. Their main problem is the growing demand for their horns, which can be used to make cups and carvings, but are also believed to have medicinal properties, despite scientific evidence to the contrary. “In fact, the primary component of rhino horn is keratin―the same substance found in fingernails―and scientific testing has repeatedly demonstrated that it has no medicinal value,” stated the FWS.
The move is being applauded by conservation organizations who believe rhinos need all the help they can get to keep them from disappearing from the landscape forever.
“The southern white rhino could become one of our greatest conservation success stories, having rebounded from the brink of extinction in the last century – but these amazing animals still have a long way to go, and poaching and habitat loss are threatening to undo all of the gains we’ve made. As rhinos throughout Africa continue to be hammered by the illegal wildlife trade, more protections for this species under the US Endangered Species Act are needed and welcomed.” said Jeff Flocken, North American Regional Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
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