GENEVA // The UN wildlife trade regulator called for stiffer penalties for poachers on Friday, saying they should be treated in a similar way to drug dealers.
"The price of a rhino horn per kilo is now half a million dollars," Oeystein Stoerkersen, who chairs a committee at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, said at a press conference.
"This has surpassed the price of cocaine," which explained a recent surge in the illegal poaching of rhinos, he said.
"If you are caught with a kilo of cocaine you will probably be sentenced for a few years," Stoerkersen said. "But if you are caught with a kilo of rhino horn you are likely to get away with it."
Almost half of 175 countries party to the convention do not have or have inadequate legislation to penalise poachers, he said.
"In my opinion we need to step up the penal code and the punishment for poaching needs to be much harsher," Stoerkersen said.
CITES Secretary General John Scanlon said a good example of fair punishment was the recent eight-to-10-year jail sentences handed out to two poachers in South Africa, home to the world's biggest rhino population.
"The South African public was supportive for these penalties," he said.
According to CITES, 239 rhinos have been poached in South Africa alone so far this year.