|A pair of white rhinos in Kruger National Park.|
The city of Miami conjures up an image of a paradise on Earth complete with palm trees, upscale neighborhoods dotted with luxurious mansions, sun-drenched beaches, and an endless nightlife fused with Caribbean and Latin American flavors. But behind this colorful and vibrant imagery lies a dark secret. Miami is also infamous for being a major U.S gateway for illegal drug trafficking from the Caribbean and South America making it one of the prime hotspots of criminal activities related to the drug trade. This concept of the illegal drug trade in Miami and the violence affiliated with it became a subject of glamorization in popular culture with notable examples like Scarface and Miami Vice. But now, there is a new black market gaining foothold in this South Florida city: the illegal rhino horn trade.
In the past two years alone, Miami has witnessed three seizures related to the illegal rhino trade. The most recent case involved the arrest and conviction of 76-year-old Gene Harris, owner of a Biscayne Boulevard gallery named Art by God, earlier this month. Mr. Harris pleaded guilty in a Miami federal court to brokering an illegal business involving rhino horns. He is appointed for sentencing in September, and faces an imprisonment of five years and a $250,000 fine. Case records indicated that Mr. Harris, representing clients in the state of California, aided a $60,000 investment of two mounted rhino horns from a couple in Phoenix and organized their transportation. For his part in the 2011 deal, he received a finder's price of $10,000. Court records also showed that Mr. Harris' clients, Felix and Vin Cheong "Jimmy" Kha, were managing the largest wildlife trafficking ring in the U.S before they were arrested in California last year on charges of proliferating the trade of black rhino horns. That same year, two other arrests were made. One was of 30-year-old Zhifei Li, a kingpin of an international ring who was apprehended outside a Miami Beach hotel. While taking part in the Original Miami Beach Antique Show, he attempted to buy rhino horns from an undercover federal agent. The U.S Department of Justice stated that Mr. Li's ring dealt in rhino horns and other products of exotic animals worth up to $4.5 million. He was sentenced to seventy months in prison. Another arrest made was of 44-year-old Shusen Wei, a Chinese business executive who was visiting the antique show with Mr. Li during which he offered a federal agent $10,000 in an attempt to bribe him to free Mr. Li. He later pleaded guilty for trying to smuggle rhino horns from Miami to China.
This article gives an explicit account of how the ongoing poaching epidemic of rhinos and the illicit businesses specializing in trading their horns have expanded to other parts of the world. It was initially believed that rhino horns would be smuggled out of Africa and into China and other Asian countries, but now it has been reported the operators of this illegal trade have expanded their business in other parts of the world including the U.S. One of the most common methods the traffickers prosper from the growing rhino horn trade is by selling horns that are chopped off of taxidermied mounts in museums. In addition, antique shows also serve as destinations for traffickers to purchase horns in order to smuggle them from one place to countries like China and Vietnam where the demand for rhino horns and other illegal wildlife contraband remains high. The wave of the illegal trade in rhino horns has become an unprecedented, yet life-threatening conservation issue and continues to claim countless lives of rhinos in Africa. For example, it has been reported recently that more than 150 rhinos have been killed in two months in South Africa. The threat of poaching and the illegal trade of rhino horns and other exotic wildlife products is at the same level as the illegal trafficking of drugs, arms, and people. Therefore, urgent action is needed in a combination of education and strict law enforcement to prevent any further loss of the world's rhinos and other endangered species on the face of the Earth.
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