US Moves to Close Rhino Horn Trade Loopholes by Listing White Rhino as Threatened

The US has extended its Endangered Species Act provisions to include the southern white rhino subspecies. Photo by  Steve Evans [CC-BY-2.0] via Wikimedia Commons
The US has extended its Endangered Species Act provisions to include the southern white rhino subspecies. Photo by Steve Evans [CC-BY-2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

In response to the international rhino horn trafficking crisis, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has announced the listing of the southern white rhinoceros as threatened due to a “Similarity of Appearance” to other rhinoceros species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

According to the USFWS, “This action brings the last unlisted rhino under immediate protection of the ESA and closes a loophole that has been exploited for trafficking in rhino horns.” Public comment on the listing will be accepted for 30 days, although the ESA protections are effective immediately.

The black, greater one-horned, Javan and Sumatran rhino — as well as the other white rhino subspecies, the northern white rhino — are all fully protected under the Endangered Species Act. Differentiating between horns and/or parts of the protected rhino species and the southern white rhino is extremely difficult without genetic testing. This has resulted in a loophole which is being exploited by rhino horn traffickers who intentionally mislabel items as “southern white rhino” in order to engage in illegal activities. Listing the southern white rhino as threatened “prohibits the sale or offer for sale in interstate commerce of this species and its parts and products, consistent with all other rhinos”.

“In recent years, demand [for rhino horn] has increased dramatically, fueled by the unfounded belief that it can cure ailments ranging from cancer to hangovers. Rhino horn is also used in libation cups and decorative carvings. The fact that this single subspecies is not listed provides a significant loophole for those trafficking in all rhino horns and other rhino products.”

This listing does not prohibit the import of southern white rhino trophies from South Africa, Swaziland or Namibia, as long as required CITES permits are obtained. The southern white rhino is listed under CITES Appendix I, except for the South Africa and Swaziland populations, which are listed under Appendix II. Antiques are exempt from ESA provisions, and the burden of proof to claim the antiques exemption lies with the person who is claiming the exemption.

“As both a transit point and consumer destination for illegal rhino horn products, the United States plays a vital role in curbing poaching and wildlife trafficking. Along with extending protection to the southern white rhino, we’re evaluating additional regulatory and policy options in an effort to strengthen our ability to investigate and prosecute poachers and traffickers,” said USFWS Director Dan Ashe.

Annamiticus welcomes the actions taken by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to extend Endangered Species Act provisions to the southern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum simum).


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Rhishja Cota-Larson

I am the founder of Annamiticus, and I work as an independent Wildlife Trade and Communication Design Consultant. I have journeyed to the streets of Hanoi to research the illegal wildlife trade, and to the rainforests of Sumatra and Java to document the world’s rarest rhinos. I am a Co-Chair of the SSN Pangolin Working Group. At CITES meetings, I collaborate with colleagues from around the world to lobby in favor of protecting endangered species. I am a Wildlife Trade and Trafficking Consultant for the upcoming documentary The Price, the host of Behind the Schemes and author of the book Murder, Myths & Medicine. I enjoy desert gardening, herping, reading, designing, and walking with my dogs.