5 min read

People Are Making This Jewelry For The Saddest Reason

It's getting by airport security way too easily.

Smugglers involved in a massive criminal network that's driving an endangered animal to extinction are becoming creative so that they can sneak loot past international borders.  

Rhinos are teetering on the brink of extinction because of an incessant demand for their horn, falsely thought to be a cure-all in some parts of Asia and now worth more than gold or cocaine — even though it's just keratin, the same material that grows on our fingernails.

Traffickers who are operating in South Africa have started to make beads and pendants out of rhino horn so that smugglers can literally wear the product and fly out of the country to trade it in Asia, according a report just released by TRAFFIC, an organization that tracks the illegal wildlife trade.

Considering that South Africa just made domestic trade of rhino horn legal, the revelation that rhino horn is leaving the country in the form of jewelry is especially concerning. South Africa is home to 79 percent of the last remaining rhinos on the planet. Over the past decade, over 7,100 rhinos have been killed by poachers for their horns.

"At the moment, most law enforcement agencies are looking for whole horns, they're looking for pieces of horn," Julian Rademeyer, spokesman for TRAFFIC, explained in a video statement. "But they're not looking for these smaller items that are being smuggled out."

Earlier this year, poachers broke into a rhino orphanage in South Africa and killed two young rhinos for their tiny horns. Just days after that, a rhino in a zoo in France was killed by poachers who broke in just to steal his horn. 

The report — which examines data on seized rhino horn from 2010 to 2017 and also tracks routes traffickers are using to get the products to markets in Asia — comes at the same time as a zoo in the Czech Republic burned the horns removed from its captive rhinos to keep them safe. Armed guards stood by while 72 pounds of rhino horn were set on fire.

"Legalizing domestic rhino horn trade in South Africa opens the door to further illegal exports of rhino horn. There is no domestic demand for rhino horn products ... the reason why the moratorium was implemented in the first place was to prevent domestic trade from being used as a cover for smuggling," Susie Watts, of WildAid's Africa Program, said in April, when South Africa legalized the domestic trade in rhino horn. "There should be no legal horn market so long as rhino poaching, illegal trade and consumer demand are out of control."

To help save rhinos from extinction, you can donate to an orphanage that helps baby rhinos grow up strong. You can also donate to TRAFFIC to help expose the illegal wildlife trade.