Rhino poaching: South Africa and Vietnam sign deal

Two black dehorned rhinoceros in South Africa
Image caption At least 618 rhinos have been poached in South Africa in 2012, nearly double the number killed in 2010

South Africa has signed a deal with Vietnam to help curb the rising number of illegally slaughtered rhinos, officials announced on Monday.

The price of rhino horn - used in traditional medicine in Asian countries - has soared.

Rhino poaching is already banned under international conventions but figures show the number of rhinos killed in 2012 was nearly double the 2010 figure.

South Africa is home to about 85% of Africa's estimated 25,000 rhinos.

Conservation groups have welcomed the move as the first official co-operation between the two nations on the issue.

The trade in rhino horn has been banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) since 1980.

At least 618 rhinos have been poached in South Africa in 2012, nearly double the number of those killed in 2010, latest official figures show.

Most of the killings took place in the world-famous Kruger National Park.

Turning point?

"The continued slaughter is a cause for immense concern," South Africa's environmental minister, Edna Molewa said after signing the new agreement in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi.

"We believe that this latest development at an international level is crucial for South Africa to effectively deal with the current scourge of poaching, and with the illegal hunting largely driven by the international demand for the rhino horn."

Buyers in Vietnam are willing to pay a high prize for the commodity, believed to help reduce toxins in the body, treat fever and even cure cancer.

The black market price of rhino horn is now in the region of $65,000 (£40,000) per kg - more than gold.

Since 2003, Vietnamese hunters are estimated to have paid more than $22m to hunt rhinos in South Africa, according to a recent report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

The new deal will focus on seven key areas of cooperation, including the protection of South Africa's biodiversity and compliance with internationally binding conventions like Cites.

Each nation will appoint a co-ordinator to help implement the agreement, which will remain in force for five years.

The deal could mark a turning point in efforts to protect rhinos because it represents the first official pact signed by both countries, Richard Thomas from the wildlife trade monitoring group Traffic told the BBC.

"Its implementation will of course be down to political will but the chances are much better if the orders come from high enough in the government," he said.

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