Commentary: Rhinos and eco-tourism must thrive

Poaching of rhinoceroses in Africa has been increasing quickly and is now at a 15-year high.

This is a small and fragile population, and the United States should join governments and environmental groups worldwide to reverse the trend.

It's not as simple as stopping poaching, which is partially a consequence of the global recession, and largely Asian (and now especially Vietnamese) demand for rhino horns. The pricey eco-tourism that made keeping rhinos alive so important to local populations is really hurting. In times such as these, it's easy for people worried about feeding their families to forget a commitment to biodiversity and respond instead to the Asian demand. Or, even if they're not poaching, to turn a blind eye to those who are.

The numbers are not yet catastrophic. A recent report delivered to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Standing Committee in Geneva noted rhino slaughter had increased from about three a month in Africa in 2000 to 12 a month now in South Africa and Zimbabwe alone. The total population in Africa is thought to be about 18,000. Poaching of the 2,400 remaining Asian rhinos is also rising.

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