For more than 2,000 years, traditional Chinese medicine has listed rhino horn as a cure-all, recommended for everything medicine for gout, to fever, and even cancer.

The Chinese government banned the trade and medicinal use of rhino horn in 1993 and was replaced with buffalo horn, but the demand for rhino horn continued and is now being claimed to be used as treatment for coronavirus.

The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) discovered images of packaging of Angong Niuhuang Wan believed to have originated in North Korea, and advertised on WeChat by a China-based trader showing rhino horn as its ingredient.

For decades, wildlife-rich countries such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya and Tanzania have struggled to control the poaching of its critically endangered animals such as pangolins, elephants, and rhinos to feed the demand in Southeast Asian countries, especially in China.

As the coronavirus pandemic happened, borders were closed, flights were cancelled and tourism to Africa’s wildlife sanctuaries were all put on hold. However, poaching seemed to be unstoppable as it returns. African animal parts are now being promoted on social media as a cure for COVID-19.

Botswana, unlike Kenya and Tanzania that managed to keep poaching under control, has lost nearly 50 rhinos, three of which in just two weeks in June. Large quantities of ivory were said to have been exported to Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, which are often entry points for Chinese market, according to a report by Wildlife Justice Commission.

“If people are getting a reduced salary, it increases the temptation for corruption,” Krissie Clark, co-founder of PAMS Foundation, a conservation and wildlife NGO that played a role in dismantling poaching units in Tanzania, told South China Morning Post in an interview.

“We’ve already seen an increase in snares,” Clark added. “I don’t know if this is just a coincidence or whether these are the first signs of economically difficult times and people are looking for food sources, but I am expecting a resurgence in poaching.”

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