On World Rhino Day, an opportunity to celebrate and focus the world's attention on all five rhinoceros species to be found in Africa and Asia: the black, white, greater one-horned, sumatran and javan rhinos.
All five rhino species are endangered, but Africa's white rhino and black rhino bear the brunt of poaching.
According to TRAFFIC, a NGO working globally on wildlife trade, 2016 is the worst year in two decades for rhino poaching. It says the number of illegally killed rhinos has reached a sobering record at 1,342.
Still according to the same group, a resurgent trade in rhino horns taking place in numerous Asian countries is to blame.
"Vietnam is the leading consumer of rhino horn and has been driving the escalating poaching of rhinos that has been increasing since 2007," TRAFFIC's Rhino Programme Coordinator, Tom Milliken, told RFI. "Resurgent demand in China is also another factor."
Milliken says going back to traditional Asian medicine, rhinos were used as a substance in combination with herbs to reduce fever. But he notes that in this era, aspirin can achieve the same end in a more cost effective way.
"What we've seen now," said Milliken, "is [...] rhino horn consumption is being viewed as a status symbol. And that in places like Vietnam, you have rhino horn being ground into powder and then put into people's drinks at a party, with the notion that it will prevent a hangover. And because it is an illegal substance, because the people who are doing this can show that they have connections to get it... [that] it's a very expensive thing, they receive status as a result."
South Africa has the largest number of rhinos left on earth, which Milliken estimates represents about 85 percent of all the rhinos left in Africa. He says the country is losing approximately three rhinos every day.
"Most of the horns are now being smuggled into Mozambique, which is the leading export country in Africa, although it has almost no rhinos left of its own."
Milliken says wildlife crime remains difficult to fight in Africa in part because criminal syndicates are well-entrenched in Africa and corrupt within its systems, and in part because foreigners operate using language and technology that is hard for local government officials to decode.
"We need to continually start exposing and embarrassing countries," said Milliken. He cited Thailand as a good example of how sanctions can work to change national legislation and crack down on the illegal trade.
French officials destroyed some three tonnes of ivory in public on Thursday as part of an effort to stop the illegal trade. France is the first European country to do so.
The poaching of ivory, which is produced from elephant tusks, is responsible for the near-extinction of elephants in Africa.
There are only 500,000 left, half of the total in 1980.
French environmental campaign group Robin des Boishas been campaiging for the destruction of stocks for some time, arguing that it ensures the ivory never makes it back into the market.
They estimate there are 17 tonnes of illegally seized ivory in France today, dispersed in various holding sites, such as customs storage and museums.
They wrote to the French government last summer asking for an account of how much illegally acquired ivory France has and asking for it to be destroyed.
In October they were told they could not have the information requested and that France was not planning on destroying its stocks.
Then in December France changed its mind.
"I think it's a chain reaction," Robin des Bois's Miriam Potter told RFI. "America recently destroyed 5.4 tonnes and the American executive office sent out a press release with a kind of appeal, to ask countries to follow suit. China is going to destroy a lot of their stockpile, certain Indian provinces. Once one country takes the lead, other countries will follow."
The three tonnes of ivory destroyed at the foot of the Eiffel Tower on Thursday had been seized at Charles De Gaulle airport and included 698 whole tusks and over 15,000 small pieces, including jewellery and figurines.
"One of the reasons why they held onto them was because they wanted to use them for educational purposes, to show children what a tusk looked like, why it was important to defend elephants," Potter says. "Now, today, we realize we don't need that much ivory."
Palm oil Industry In Africa
ost of the world's palm oil comes from Indonesia and Malaysia. It's been that way for decades. But environmentalists say this has come at a huge cost to the region's forests, where native trees are cut down in order to plant the palm trees that supply palm oil. So avoiding a repeat of what has happened in south-east Asia has become a priority for environmentalists. RFI's Clea Broadhurst asks if it's possible to implement a sustainable palm oil industry in Africa.
Palm Oil has quite a bad reputation. For decades, it has been associated with environmental damage and human rights abuse, mainly due to the way large-scale companies operate. In Indonesia, for example, deforestation has increased carbon emissions and destroyed the habitat of rare breeds of animals such as orangutans.
The aggressive expansion of the industry has also broken up communities.
Africa faces similar problems.
The Global Palm Oil Market is expected to be worth about 82 billion euros by 2022. And today, rival investors are flocking to West Africa to secure land for their plantations.
Environmentalists are warning governments in these countries not to make the same mistakes that were made in Southeast Asia.
One thing experts seem to agree on is the fact that the business model needs to change, evolve, if palm oil production in Africa is to be sustainable.
RFI spoke to Matthias Rhein, a finance policy advisor at SeventyThree, a firm specialised in the energy, marine, land and industrial sectors; Tom Lomax, a lawyer and human rights coordinator at an NGO called the Forest Peoples Programme; Christopher Stewart, Head of corporate responsibility and sustainability, at Olam International; and Abraham Baffoe, Africa regional director at an NGO called Proforest, which advises governments and companies how to operate, and respect the environment at the same time.