Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

RHINO poaching and wildlife trafficking should be brought to the attention of heads of state within entities such as the Group of 20, US Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Bob Hormats said on Tuesday.

The US was concerned about the links between international terrorist groups and the syndicates involved in illegal wildlife trade, along with the smuggling of drugs, weapons and humans, said Mr Hormats.

He was speaking in Pretoria at a US-sponsored round-table discussion on international collaboration against wildlife trafficking.

Scientists predict that rhinos will become extinct in the wild within about 30 years if the pace of rhino poaching is not curbed.

Mr Hormats said the US was working on better understanding the way in which the global wildlife black market operated, and "where the money goes". Following the money was the best way of catching the criminals,

Mr Hormats also said combating wildlife crime was "top priority" for his office. While he was aware that international treaties were often toothless in the face of organised crime, he suggested that even the United Nations might be able to help "if discussion moves to action".

The illegal ivory trade has been linked to terrorist organisations, and to rebel groups and governments in parts of Africa eager for funding for insurgencies, civil wars and internecine conflict.

Investigative reporter and author Julian Rademeyer, who moderated the discussion, said his most recent research indicated that a number of key rhino horn crime syndicates — primarily Vietnamese — are now setting up base in Mozambique or have set up base there. This was because it is a lot easier for them to operate there and get the horns out of the country. Corruption is rife and the police make very little if any effort to stop them.

Mozambique has been widely criticised, notably at the most recent meeting of the parties to the Convention on Illegal Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) this March, for its poor enforcement of Cites rules, its porous borders, and its apparent reluctance to take the escalation of rhino poaching seriously. There are rumours that the country’s last rhino was recently killed.

Mr Hormats said that wildlife trafficking had "economic and political ramifications" and that states that were "blasé" about it should be made to realise those involved were often "out to destabilise their country".

Department of Environmental Affairs biodiversity head Fundisile Mketeni said the "action plan" South Africa signed with Vietnam on Monday was worthwhile in that it could be used to hold the Southeast Asian country to account.