Escalating levels of poaching and illegal trade in rhino horns are seriously undermining rhino conservation efforts, putting the survival of the species at risk, according to a report by two global conservation organisations.

The report, prepared by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network, says that illegal trade in rhino horns involves highly organised, mobile and well-financed criminal groups, mainly composed of Asian nationals based in Africa.

“The findings of the report are alarming,” says Tom Milliken, a rhino expert from TRAFFIC. “Today, rhino poaching and illegal horn trade are at their highest levels in over 20 years, threatening to reverse years of conservation effort, particularly in Africa. There is no doubt that rhino species are facing a serious crisis.”

In Asia, although conservation action in Nepal and India has resulted in increased numbers of the Great One-horned Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), the situation in Indonesia and Malaysia remains serious for the world’s two rarest rhino species- the Sumatran Rhinoceros and the Javan Rhinoceros, it says.

The report came at a time when India is making major efforts to deal with the incidents of poaching involving the rhinoceros in Assam.

“Rhinos are killed for their horns, which are seen as highly desirable status symbols in parts of Asia, notably Vietnam, but also increasingly in China,” says Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, head of IUCN Species Survival Commission’s (SSC) Asian Rhino Specialist Group.

“Horns are also increasingly used for non-traditional purposes such as hangover cure and body detoxifier, especially in Vietnam,” he says.

According to the report, the crime networks have recruited “pseudo-hunters including Vietnamese citizens, Thai prostitutes and proxy hunters from the Czech Republic and Poland” to obtain rhino horns in South Africa on the pretence of trophy hunts for illegal commercial trade.