Killing elephants for their ivory, slaughtering tigers for their pelts and bones, and fatally hacking the horns off rhinos have reached epidemic proportions in recent years. Unfortunately, the bloody trail leads to Asia, particularly China and Viet Nam, where the demand and price for products from endangered species have sky-rocketed, propelled by fast-growing economies, an increase in purchasing power, the rising demand for rare animal parts to be used as ingredients in tonics, as "status symbols," or investments, and the availability and accessibility of these products in the marketplace.
Although these endangered species are protected by international and domestic laws banning the trade in their parts and derivatives, loopholes and exceptions are actively created and exploited by those who benefit from commercial trade in wildlife.
While the State Council of China banned the buying, sale and use of tiger bone more than twenty years ago, large industrial tiger farms have emerged in the country with the sole purpose of farming tigers for the trade in their parts and products. Under pressure from commercial interest in these "tiger farms," wildlife authorities issued licenses for wineries and taxidermists, giving their tacit approval for the commercial trade in tiger bone tonic wine and tiger pelts used for home decor.
Farming tigers for trade in their parts has revived a waning market interest in tiger products, thus further stimulating poaching. It costs as little as US $15 to kill a wild tiger compared to US $7,000 to farm an animal to maturity. This profit margin offers substantial incentives for poaching tigers in the wild. Since it is impossible to distinguish between farm-raised tigers and their wild counterparts from their bones and other parts, farming tigers for trade creates enormous difficulties for law enforcement, and provides opportunities to "launder" products made from wild tigers.
South Africa, home to 73 per cent of all wild rhinos worldwide, has seen rhino poaching escalate from 13 killed in 2007 to 1,004 in 2013. While international commercial trade in rhino horn is prohibited by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), South Africa allows foreigners to hunt rhinos and ship the horns overseas as trophies. Taking advantage of this legal loophole, criminal gangs employ Thai and Vietnamese prostitutes to pose as big game hunters to obtain fake trophy hunting permits to smuggle horns from poached rhinos.