By Tim Devaney - 05/19/14 10:47 AM EDT
The Obama administration on Monday issued new regulations intended to protect thousands of African rhinos from poachers.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Monday it is permanently adding the southern white rhino to the threatened species list. This rhino has been on the list on an interim emergency basis since last September.
The southern white rhino itself is about the least vulnerable type of rhino, but federal officials say the move will actually help protect some of the more endangered species from being poached for their horns.
Poachers have been claiming that the endangered rhinos they killed are southern white rhinos, because they look the same. This made it difficult for federal officials to determine whether a rhino horn had been poached or not, which gave traffickers an advantage, the agency said.
"This similarity of appearance has resulted in the documented trade of listed rhinoceros species, often under the guise of being the unprotected southern white rhinoceros, and this difficulty in distinguishing between the rhino species protected under the [Endangered Species] Act and the southern white rhino constitutes an additional threat to all endangered rhinoceros species," the agency wrote.
"The determination that the southern white rhino should be treated as threatened due to similarity of appearance will substantially facilitate law enforcement actions to protect and conserve all endangered rhino species," it added.
Rhinos are often poached for their horns, which are very valuable on the black market. While there are still more than 17,000 southern white rhinos estimated to be living, other types of rhinos, including the Javan, Sumatran, Indian, black and northern white rhinos, face a much greater risk of becoming extinct.
These rhinos are already listed as endangered species.