South Africa, Vietnam launch talks on rhino poaching

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South Africa and Vietnam have launched talks toward an agreement to curb rhino poaching, which has soared in recent years driven by booming demand in Asia, officials said Wednesday.

The talks, which aim to produce a Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries, come amid another bloody year for rhinos in South Africa and a rise in the price of rhino horn on the Asian black market, including Vietnam, where the substance is believed to cure cancer.

"Biodiversity conservation is a full-circle process which starts from the source country and ends in the destination country," Nguyen Trung Kien, a counsellor at the Vietnamese embassy in Pretoria, told journalists.

"We also understand that we need to raise public awareness of the importance of biodiversity. And we also need to get rid of the wrong understanding that rhino horn can cure cancer."

South Africa lost 333 rhinos to poaching last year and has lost 309 so far this year, up from 13 in 2007.

Police and parks officials say the increase has been driven by organised poaching syndicates.

The horns on the lucrative Asian black market fetch up to $500,000 per piece, according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Officials from South Africa's environment ministry and Vietnam's forestry administration held two days of talks that the South Africans described as a "total package" bringing police, prosecutors and customs officers into the discussions.

Officials said the final document will be a wide-ranging agreement, including conservation, law enforcement, intelligence, prosecution and monitoring of legal hunts. They did not give a timeline for signing the deal.

© 2011 AFP

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