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Rhino Horn Trafficking Ring Busted on U.S. Soil

The devastating and illegal trafficking of rhino horns is not confined to Africa and Asia. In the past week, seven people were arrested in Los Angeles, Newark and New York on charges of trafficking in critically endangered black rhinoceros.

In total, 37 rhino horns were seized, along with approximately $1 million in cash, $1 million in bars of gold, diamonds and Rolex watches.

Special agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations made the arrests and have executed search warrants in five different states as part of “Operation Crash,” a multi-agency effort to investigate and prosecute those involved in the black market trade of endangered rhinoceros horn.

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“This seizure confirms that the global trade in rhino horns is spreading its tentacles across America as it makes its way to highly lucrative illegal markets in Asia,” said WWF’s Leigh Henry. “Rhinos are being targeted by sophisticated poaching networks with money, connections and no scruples. If we don’t succeed in rooting them out, then we risk decades of conservation efforts in Africa and Asia.”

Rhinoceros under siege

Rhino poaching across Africa has risen sharply in the past few years, threatening to reverse hard-won population increases achieved by during the 20th century. Last year in South Africa—home to three quarters of the world’s rhinos—a record 448 rhinos were killed by poachers.

That’s a rhino every 18 hours. Rhinos in other African and Asian range countries are also being targeted by poachers.

The upsurge is tied to increased demand for rhino horn in Asia, particularly Vietnam, where it is being marketed by illegal traders as a cure for cancer, for which there is no scientific evidence.

Help and hope for rhinos

WWF and TRAFFIC—the wildlife trade monitoring network of WWF and IUCN—are providing assistance to rangers, criminal investigators, prosecutors, and customs authorities in both Africa and Asia. Additionally, TRAFFIC has facilitated visits between South African and Vietnamese government officials to discuss deepening cooperation.

In October 2011, WWF helped to successfully establish a new black rhino population in a safer location. This work was done by the Black Rhino Range Expansion Project (BRREP), a partnership between WWF-South Africa, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism.

For this effort, nineteen critically endangered black rhinos were moved in order to help increase land available for their conservation. This reduces pressure on existing wildlife reserves and provides new territory where rhinos have a greater opportunity to increase in number. Creating more dispersed and better protected populations also helps keep rhinos safe from poachers.

Learn More
NBC News investigates rhino horn poaching
Record rhino poaching in South Africa
Success story: Rhino relocation