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  • Richard Conniff writes about behavior, in humans and other animals, on two, four, six, and eight legs, plus the occasional slither.

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Are Rhinos Killed for Carved Trinkets?

Posted by Richard Conniff on December 11, 2011

As the war on rhinos continues, a Telegraph reporter goes on safari with Chinese billionaires and suggests that the horns may be valued not just for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) but for elaborate carvings, as with elephant tusks:

Jennifer, the daughter of one of the businessmen, mentions bribery. By this she means gifts given to win favour. There is a strong tradition of gift-giving among businessmen in China. Yahui can be translated as ‘elegant bribery’, which involves cultural products and artefacts. Bribery is illegal; yahui gets around the law. None of the guests I spoke to had personal experience of carved rhino horn, but they did reach a consensus: these products still hold social cachet and may be changing hands as gifts.

[Tom] Milliken [of Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring organiation] believes the 33 horns seized in Hong Kong last month were destined for Guangzhou, a key trading hub on the South China Sea with a carving tradition that dates from the Qin dynasty, 200 b.c. Discovered alongside 758 ivory chopsticks and 127 ivory bracelets, the horns may well have been on their way to becoming elegant bribes.

‘There is some evidence that suggests there may be a resurgent carving industry to replicate the Ming dynasty,’ Milliken says. The evidence he refers to came from a middleman who confessed to moving rhino horn to China for carvings. Grace Gabriel, the Asia director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, says that while researching elephant ivory in China, she also found a lot of rhino horn carving.

A Kenyan petition is currently entreating Wen Jiabao, the Chinese prime minister, to ‘stop the killing of elephants and rhinos across Africa’. It calls for ‘an international outcry… to force the Chinese government to stop the illegal trade in rhino horn and elephant ivory before it is too late’.

Charlie Mayhew, the CEO of the charity Tusk Trust, advocates that ‘African governments should stand up to the Chinese and say, “Elephants and rhino are our iconic species, in the same way that the giant panda is yours. We’re appealing to you to recognise and respect these species as a part of our national heritage.”’

You can read the full article here.


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