An international convention of wildlife officials Tuesday stopped short of imposing sanctions on Vietnam and Mozambique — which conservationists consider the world’s worst offenders in the illegal trade of rhino horn — but strongly urged the two nations to do far more to stop the illegal trade, which leads to poaching of an animal on the verge of extinction.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), whose 178 member nations are meeting in Bangkok, called on Vietnam to develop a strategy to reduce demand for horns from African rhinoceroses. There is a widespread belief in Vietnam that the horns can be used to cure cancer and other ailments.
Mozambique was urged to pass legislation to reduce the illegal rhino-horn trade and to impose stiffer punishments on rhinoceros poachers in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, which is near the border with Mozambique.
CITES is expected to release an official statement Wednesday on the conference actions. At least two newspapers, the Times of India and the Bangkok Post, published accounts of Tuesday’s events, and the World Wildlife Fund provided a statement.
A record 668 rhinoceroses were killed by poachers last year in South Africa, where the world’s small population is most plentiful. About 150 have been killed this year.
All Africa News reported last month that South African law enforcement officials have killed 279 Mozambique citizens involved in poaching.
CITES bans trade in rhino horn, but trophy hunting for white rhinoceros in South Africa and nearby Swaziland is exempt.
If Vietnam and Mozambique do not implement the recommendations within eight months to a year, CITES could impose trade sanctions, instructing the world’s wildlife inspectors and customs police to reject importation of the countries’ wildlife or goods made from wildlife. At the start of the convention, such sanctions were imposed on Guinea for repeated violations.
Conservation groups such as the World Wildlife Fund urged CITES to take a much harder line on Vietnam and Mozambique in the months before the convention, which started March 3. They petitioned the conference to impose immediate sanctions on Vietnam.
“The outcome wasn’t quite as decisive as hoped,” said Colman O’Criodain, a World Wildlife Fund trade policy analyst who is attending the conference. He said Vietnam and Mozambique are the globe’s worst offenders in the rhinoceros trade.
Vietnam imposes a fine for illegally possessing rhino horn, “but the value of the goods is much higher than the fine,” O’Criodain said.
He added, however, that the steps CITES is taking are “definitely positive. If there was an element of frustration, it’s the slowness of the process.”
To protect African elephants, CITES will create an Ivory Enforcement Task Force promoting stronger collaboration among countries to catch poachers and middlemen who trade in ivory from elephants. A proposal for better DNA testing to determine the origin of confiscated ivory was also accepted.
Thailand and China are among the nations on standby for instructions from other member countries on what actions they should take to slow the illegal importation of ivory across their borders.
China has some of the world’s strictest penalties for the possession of large quantities of ivory, but conservationists and U.S. officials say enforcement against illegal trade is lax. Thailand allows the legal trade of Asian elephant ivory, which provides cover for illegal trade, conservation critics say.
Delegates at CITES will negotiate recommendations for those countries over the next two days. They will also officially uphold the adoption of earlier proposals to limit trade of freshwater turtles, as well as sharks and manta rays, O’Criodain said.