That means all five rhino species, three native to Asia and two to Africa, now have the maximum protection possible under U.S. law. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the protections, including a total ban on importing products made from rhinoceros, will begin immediately.
In its official announcement, the department said the southern white has been successfully re-introduced into much of its historic range after being exterminated everywhere except South Africa. The department said one reason for the rule change is the species' close resemblance to the far more endangered northern white, which may be extinct in the wild.
"As both a transit point and consumer destination for illegal rhino horn products, the United States plays a vital role in curbing poaching and wildlife trafficking. Along with extending protection to the southern white rhino, we're evaluating additional regulatory and policy options in an effort to strengthen our ability to investigate and prosecute poachers and traffickers," said Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Powdered rhinoceros horn is a traditional remedy in Chinese medicine, and rhinoceros ivory has also been used for dagger handles in the Arabian peninsula.
In another move to protect a threatened species, the department announced Monday that more than 6 tons of elephant ivory now stored in a Denver-area warehouse will be ground up in October, The Denver Post reported. The ivory includes statues, jewelry and other trinkets fashioned from tusks as well as tusks.
At a White House conference, officials said they are considering other means of combating the slaughter of elephants for their tusks. These include a social media campaign in China, one of the primary markets for ivory, to reduce demand.
The National Wildlife Property Repository at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Commerce City is used to store all items coming from endangered species seized at U.S. ports, border crossings and airports. Officials say the repository holds so much ivory that just getting around has become difficult.
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