The Wildlife Justice Commission (WJC) was es- tablished in March 2015 with the goal of disrup- ting and helping to dismantle transnational or- ganised criminal networks trading in wildlife, timber and fish. Our first investigation, Operation Phoenix, revealed a major criminal network in- volved in the trafficking of body parts and deriva- tives of several CITES Appendix I listed species such as elephants, rhinos and tigers and centred upon the small village of Nhi Khe, Viet Nam.1 The dynamics of rhino horn trafficking in Nhi Khe and an analysis of raw rhino horn were later presented in the WJC’s Black Business2 report published in September 2017.
The WJC continued monitoring and recording price data for illegal wildlife products in addition to rhino horn. The recording and analysis of commodity price data is of great value, both in- ternally for the WJC as we seek to tackle trans- national wildlife crime; and externally, as our assessment can also offer real insight to inform government agencies. The data analysis allows us to monetise wildlife crime by attaching a va- lue to commodities in trade, while allowing for an estimation of the potential profits of wildlife criminals. The amount of generated profits could be an indication whether any additional crimi- nal offences, such as money laundering, are com- mitted by those individuals. Documenting this process and disseminating this information to law enforcement agencies could assist in the ini- tiation of additional financial investigations.
Current and properly documented price data also holds huge value beyond our investigations. It assists in the understanding of the dynamics of illegal wildlife trade, including consumer and market characteristics, differences of price levels between retail and wholesale, and assigns value to products in the current market. With this, the fluctuations of prices and demand within the market can be monitored.
To determine whether any changes have occu- rred concerning the value of rhino horn speci- mens, and whether these possible changes are of significance to the trafficking situation, we con- ducted a preliminary analysis on the current pri- ce data further collected by our investigators across several operations.
Current price data obtained between January 2017-July 2018 finds that the price per kilo of raw rhino horn in Africa is 50% lower than the price demanded in Asia.
Based on results obtained from the WJC Opera- tion Phoenix conducted between July 2015–Au- gust 2017 and the analysis of raw rhino horn pri- ces featured in the report Black Business, the average price per kilo was calculated to be around USD 26,653. This figure was found to be substan- tially lower than the commonly cited value in the media that raw rhino horn is worth USD 65,000 per kilo.
1- The key findings of the WJC’s Operation Phoenix are detailed on a briefing document available at www.wildlifejustice.org
2- Available at www.wildlifejustice.org
Since then, our investigators have continued operations across Africa and Asia and have been offered rhino horn materials on several occa- sions and locations. Other investigations in Sou- theast Asia conducted from January 2017 until July 2018 after the investigation in Nhi Khe, found the average price of raw rhino horn to be around USD 17,852 per kilo (Table 1). This is a 33% drop in value in comparison to the average value calculated during Operation Phoenix. This de- crease corroborates earlier findings that indicated an overall observed declining trendline in relation to the value of raw rhino horn.
In addition, prices were collected from several locations in Africa between March 2017 and June 2018. The price for raw rhino horn ranges from USD 3,604 to USD 17,000 per kilo, calculated to equate to an overall average of USD 8,683 per kilo. Although the total number of data points is limi- ted, the trendline based on these prices also shows a decline (see table 1)
As expected, based on prices solely for raw rhi- no horn, this report indicates that the average price for raw rhino horn is significantly lower in Africa. This highlights the fact that within wildlife trade, just as in other illegal transna- tional trafficking, the product on offer will be more expensive along the chain towards the end user.
– Because prices are influenced by variables wi- thin the processing chain (e.g. the expertise of carvings), only the prices for raw rhino horn ma- terials are being described.
– Crude analysis was based on the current prices for rhino horns obtained during our investigations. No analysis was done on any motivations causing price changes.
– Products in Asia were found to be offered in di- fferent quantities. In order to obtain a uniform average, all quantities were converted into kilos. – Prices in national currencies were converted into United States Dollar (USD), using www.xe.com, based on the exchange rate on the date when the products were recorded by the WJC.
– When engaging with sellers, the WJC investi- gators claim to be buyers originated from China. This concerns prices obtained via direct observa- tion as well as via online social media platforms such as Facebook, WeChat and Instagram.
– Products and prices were observed directly and via social media, see table 2.
Following Operation Phoenix, we continued to monitor and collect prices for raw rhino horn in four countries in Asia. Our investigators observed and were offered raw rhino horn (whole and pie- ces) on 24 occasions between 1 January 2017 and June 2018. The prices ranged from USD 7,500 to USD 31,296 per kilo, which equates to an average price of USD 17,852 per kilo. This is substantially lower compared to the average price found in Nhi Khe from June 2015 until August 2017 (USD 26,653 per kilo / 33%).
When combining the prices from the investiga- tion in Nhi Khe with the prices obtained in in- vestigations, taken from the first data point in July 2015 until the latest data point in July 2018, the linear trendline based upon the prices for three years raw rhino horn in Asia shows a de- cline (see chart 1). This illustrates that after Ope- ration Phoenix the prices continue to decline.
Chart 1. Raw rhino horn prices per kilo in Asia between July 2015-July 2018 (USD)
In Africa raw rhino horns (whole and tips) were offered and observed on 16 occasions between March 2017 and June 2018. The price for raw rhino horn ranges from USD 3,604 to USD 17,000 per kilo with the average calculated price during that time period equating to USD 8,683 per kilo. This is a significant difference from the average price found in Nhi Khe from June 2015 until
August 2017 (USD 26,653 per kilo) and in Asia from January 2017 until July 2018 (USD 17,852 per kilo). Moreover, the linear trendline for pri- ces of raw rhino horn in Africa, show a steep de- cline, see chart 2.
Chart 2. Raw rhino horn prices per kilo in Africa between March 2017-June 2018 (USD)
We note a 33% decrease in value of raw rhino horn during the last three years (2015-2018) in Asia, with average prices estimated to be around USD 17,852 per kilo. A parallel trend has also been observed in relation to the value of raw ivory.3
While this preliminary analysis allows for the identification of some crude comparisons between the current value of raw rhino horn in Africa and Asia, it does not yet allow for a meaningfully analysis of long-term trends or influencing factors driving changes in the market.
This data capture will form the basis of such analyses that the WJC will undertake in the futu- re and report on as part of its continued fight to tackle transnational organised wildlife crime.
Prepared by Aletta Van Roon
Intelligence Analyst. Wildlife Justice Commission
3- ‘Decline in the legal ivory trade in China in anticipation of a ban’ (2017). Lucy Vigne and Esmond Martin.