African Rhino Poaching Crisis Continues to Rise

Rhino poaching continues to rise with nearly 200 rhinos killed in the first six months of 2011.  The majority of rhino slayings have come out of Kruger National Park in South Africa.  Latest tallies of Kruger reached 126 killed rhinos.  Law enforcement initiatives are working hard to protect the animals, but many feel authority organizations cannot keep up with poacher’s technological advantage. 

Rhino horns have long been considered desirable on the black market.  Asian countries believe the horns hold mystical powers, with uses ranging from aphrodisiac purposes to beauty treatments to medical cures.  Scientists have dispelled myths surrounding rhino horns, proving they are nothing more than Keratin, the same protein structure nails are made of, possessing no medical benefits.  Despite scientific backing, rhino horn values continue to soar.  Poachers can make $30,000 per pound.  On average, a horn weighs between six to eight pounds, equating to a profit of $210,000 per kill. 

South Africa is home to nearly 90% of the world’s rhino population.  As of last survey, about 19,400 white rhinos and 1,678 black rhinos roam throughout the land.  Kruger National Park houses 12,000 of the country’s white rhino population.  However, Kruger is considered a hotspot for poaching.  The park borders Mozambique, providing an easy escape route for criminal networks. 

As of 2010, conservationists claim rhino poaching has increased nearly 2,000% over the past three years.  The Chinese Year of the Rabbit is on pace to break last year’s record of 333 killed rhinos.  The hefty sums of money poachers make, allow them to afford state-of-the-art instruments such as helicopters, veterinary-grade tranquilizers and night vision.  Many point to technology as the main reason authority groups can’t keep up with poachers.  Dr. Joseph Okori, manager of the World Wildlife Fund African Program, has said South Africa is not dealing with typical poachers.  Criminal poaching networks are more organized with more money backing, making it harder to stay a step ahead.

Authorities are not only troubled by the increase of rhino deaths, but poachers seem to be expanding their target areas.  Swaziland, a small country about the size of New Jersey, fell victim to its first rhino killing in nearly 20 years.  Dr. Okori warned, “We cannot allow poaching to proliferate across rhino range countries.”  He goes on to state that South Africa is fighting a war that without change, could reverse conservation gains made over the past century.         

Conservationists are taking every measure possible in an attempt to combat the illegal killings.  In Kenya, 24-hour surveillance has been established on all remaining rhinos.  Other parts of South Africa are fighting technology with technology, fitting rhinos with GPS tracking systems.  The device is implanted into the horn, allowing authority personnel to be alerted of any unusual rhino movements.  Head of security for North West Parks Board in the Mafikeng Game Reserve, Rusty Hustler, said GPS systems can be programmed for any number of reasons; from the animal running, to laying in the same area for any extend period of time.  He said in the future, GPS tracking systems could also help locate poached horns, recovering them before they land in the black market.

Heightened law enforcement efforts are seeing some positive results, but not enough. Thus far, 123 people have been arrested, but only six were convicted.  Sadly, human blood is being shed as well with 20 poachers being killed during slaying attempts.  Dr. Okori said the only way to deter poachers is to have swift prosecutions, strict sentences and no leniency.   

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