Wildlife products are status symbols.
Demand markets for products from Africa's iconic species are driven by wealth and age-old customs. Affluent individuals in southeast Asia use rhino horn as a party drug while elephant ivory is carved into ornaments or jewelry and sold globally; the skins of some of the world's most beautiful animals are coveted for their patterns. As more upwardly mobile consumers look to exclusive wildlife products to mark their wealth, new centers are emerging as trading hotspots.
False medicinal claims are killing Africa's threatened species.
Not only is rhino horn used widely in the carving industry, it is also falsely believed to be a powerful cure for ailments ranging from cancer to common colds and hangovers. In countries like Vietnam — with thousands of new cancer cases per year and limited treatment facilities — rhino horn is a valuable and ready substitute to cure the disease.
Pangolins are suffering a similar fate. Recognized as the world's most trafficked mammal, this scaly creature is hunted for its scales, which are believed to hold medicinal powers, and its meat. Public awareness is needed to spread the scientific knowledge and dissuade the mistaken belief that rhino horn or pangolin scales have any medical value. In fact, both are made from keratin — the same substance that makes up human nails and hair.
Wildlife trade policies change across country boundaries.
As a key demand center, China has taken significant steps to limit trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn. In 2018, China officially shut down the domestic ivory market. In addition to closing carving factories and retailers, the government also banned the use of rhino horn in traditional Chinese medicine. Meanwhile in South Africa — home to one of the largest rhino populations on the continent — the government has permitted domestic trade in rhino horn. Although the law is isolated and limited, it sends mixed messages to the market and creates loopholes that illegal traffickers can abuse to get illicit products to ready markets.