Vietnamese networks taking over rhino horn trafficking

Ellanie Smit
Rhino horn trafficking remains a severe problem that needs to be addressed with a new sense of urgency as transnational organised crime networks target the animals, a new wildlife crime report has found.

The report by the Wildlife Justice Commission (WJC) said Vietnamese criminal networks are filling the void left by the removal of Chinese networks in Namibia, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Angola and Mozambique.

“Only in South Africa do Chinese networks still dominate the illegal rhino horn trade.”

Since its formation in 2015, the WJC has worked on 16 multi-year investigations involving rhino-related crimes in Vietnam, China, Malaysia, Laos, Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique, DRC, Thailand, Angola and Cambodia.

According to the report, it is difficult to quantify how much rhino horn is held in legal stockpiles as few countries publicly report their stockpile inventory. However, the most recent figures indicate that more than 87 tonnes of rhino horns and pieces are held in 10 African range states.

It said analysis of seizure data shows that Malaysia has emerged as a key transit country for rhino horn trafficking from Africa to Asia. It has been linked to seizures originating from Uganda, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa.

Data collected further shows that 83 kilograms of Namibian rhino horns were seized during 2020/2021.

Illicit supply chain

Furthermore, the report said poached horns continue to be a key source for the illicit supply chain, primarily from South Africa where poaching rates remain high despite decreasing 50% since the peak in 2014, but also from other key range states including Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

According to intelligence collected by the WJC, traffickers in DRC appear to source their horns from rhinos poached in Kenya, Namibia and Botswana and some have used Zambia as a location to store and consolidate horns.

It also found that the high-level Zimbabwean poacher Dumisani Moyo is believed to be connected to rhino and elephant poaching in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia. This while he has been arrested at least five times between 2008 and 2017 for offences for which he has not been held accountable.

In each instance, he was released without a charge, granted bail then absconded due to procedural issues.

“With 9 561 rhinos poached across Africa and 7.5 tonnes of rhino horns seized from illegal trade globally during the past 10 years, the scale of the rhino crisis has now likely eclipsed anything that was envisaged in 2012,” the report said.

A total of 63 rhinos have thus far been poached in Namibia this year, up from the 44 killed last year.

In 2020, a total of 42 rhinos were killed, while in 2019, 57 rhinos were poached. This compared to 84 in 2018, 55 in 2017, 66 in 2016 and 97 in 2015.