150 Live Rhinos Imported Since 2007 To Populate Wildlife Park
A Chinese company is reportedly making a second attempt at establishing a rhino farm in the country to harvest horn. Such a move is one way for China to get around the CITES rhino horn ban as domestic trade is not covered by the international agreement.
China has a track record for getting around trade bans of endangered species. The most notable one is the establishment of tiger farms in the country. There are thought to be as many as 5,000 tigers kept in small cages in the country, that’s more than the estimated 3,500 tigers left in the wild.
There now appears to be growing evidence that China is trying to put together a breeding herd of African rhino to supply part of the nation’s rhino horn demands.
The first claim was published in Time magazine in 2011. Their investigation found that a Chinese arms company – the Hawk Group – had imported 60 rhino from South Africa to a park called Africa View in the Hainan Province of China. They also found the subsidiary company has developed a device that could scrape rhino horn. Plans were in place to produce 500,000 detox pills made from rhino horn. Projected sales from the rhino horn was $60 million a year.
Africa View was billed as being a tourism destination that would contain a wide range of animals in a pleasant setting. However the park is little more than concrete pens and contains nothing but rhinos.
The report by Time magazine led to South Africa tightening up it’s rhino export requirements and last year there were no live rhino exports permitted to China. However between 2007 and 2012 there were over 150 rhinos exported to China including 7 that were bought by the Mekong Group in 2010. The 7 rhino had been kept at a city wildlife park until March. Then in March they were moved in a blaze of publicity to a rainforest reserve in Yannan with plans to let them live wild.
The Mekong Group, just like Africa View, plans to open a vast wildlife park in a rain forest environment in Yunnan Province. Again just like the African View project the Mekong Group plans to have a wide range of animals and be open to the public. The plans included the rhinos effectively living wild in the park.
There have been concerns that the rain-forest habitat is not suitable for rhinos who live on the savannas of Africa and that by living wild they will not be able to find suitable food. There are also concerns that the rhinos who are meant be living wild are being tamed for human contact. While tourists in South Africa are not permitted out of vehicles to view rhinos and those on specialist walking safaris are protected by specialist guides and armed guards the promotional material of the Mekong Group show tourists strolling happily just yards away from rhino.
The illusion of the rhino park of the Mekong Group though may have been shattered a couple of weeks ago with an investigation undertaken by the China News Service and published in Newsweek China. Newsweek China has no connection with the American Newsweek publication and it is run by China’s second largest news agency.
In its report they quote an unnamed source as saying that the Mekong Group has connections with the group behind the Africa View project. It confirms suspicions by many in the country that the safari park is nothing but a front for another rhino farm in China.
As Zhang Li, professor of ecology at Beijing Normal University, explained, “This is a commercially-operated rhino husbandry project rather than an academic endeavour“.
The initial Time report has had consequences for the Mekong Group as the restriction on rhino sales to China from South Africa means that the Mekong Group is having problems putting together a large enough breeding herd. The ban has stopped the supply of at least 30 rhino that the Mekong Group had planned to import.