China, Vietnam and Thailand are among the worst offenders in fuelling a global black market that is seeing record numbers of elephants and rhinos killed in Africa, according to environment group WWF.
Releasing a report rating countries’ efforts at stopping the trade in endangered species, WWF said elephant poaching was at crisis levels in central Africa while the survival of rhinos was under grave threat in South Africa.
In parts of Asia, rhino horns are highly prized for their use in traditional medicines — some believe they can cure cancer — while elephants’ ivory has for centuries been regarded as a precious decoration.
Global efforts to stem the trade have been under way for years, but China, Thailand and Vietnam are allowing black markets in various endangered species to flourish by failing to adequately police key areas, according to WWF.
It said Vietnam was one of the countries of most concern, giving it a worst-possible “red” score for failing to stem the trade in rhino horns as well as tiger parts.
WWF said Vietnam was the top destination for rhino horns illegally imported from South Africa.
It described South Africa as the “epicentre” in an African rhino poaching crisis, despite strong government efforts there that began in 2009 to stop the killings.
A record 448 rhinos were poached in South Africa in 2011, and this year could be even worse with 262 already lost from January to June, according to WWF.
The wildlife group accused the Vietnamese government of doing very little to stop rhino horns from being imported, describing penalties in Vietnam for buying them as not nearly strong enough to act as a deterrent.
But it accused China and Thailand of being among the worst culprits in allowing the illegal trade of elephant tusks.