Awful year for SA’s rhinos as 2011 poaching shatters record

A record number of rhinos were poached this year in South Africa, as rising demand in Asia for their horns led to increased killings of the threatened species.

At least 443 rhinos have been killed in South Africa in 2011, up from 333 last year, the national park service and conservationists said.

The street value of rhinoceros horns has soared to about $65 000 a kilogram, making it more expensive than gold, platinum and in many cases cocaine, as a belief — with no basis in science — has taken hold in recent years in parts of Asia that ingesting it can cure or prevent cancer.

South Africa, home to more than 20 000 rhinos, was losing about 15 animals a year a decade ago. But poaching increased dramatically from about 2007 as a growing affluent class in places such as Vietnam and Thailand began spending more on rhino horn for traditional medicine.

The number of rhinoceroses dying unnatural deaths in South Africa, either through illegal poaching or legal hunts, has reached a level likely to lead to population decline, according to a study by Richard Emslie, an expert in the field.

Bid to slow the carnage
About half of poaching takes place in Kruger National Park, where soldiers and surveillance aircraft have been deployed in recent months to slow the carnage.

The park has been the focal point of an arms race as gangs of poachers sponsored by international crime syndicates have used high-powered weaponry, night vision goggles and helicopters to hunt the animals, investigators said.

In a separate study, the number of large scale ivory seizures is likely set a record this year, pointing to increased African elephant poaching.

Home to over 90% of the rhinos in Africa, South Africa grants licences for legal hunts, with a growing number of the horns then mounted as trophies, shipped to Asia and sold on the black market, according to police and customs officials.

Trained to kill
Many poachers were trained by Mozambique’s military or police and are now living in squalor in the border region next to Kruger, investigators say.

Their cut of the rhino money is relatively small compared to other players in the international trade but is considered a fortune at home.

Rhino horn has been used for centuries in Chinese medicine, where it was ground into a powder and often mixed with hot water to treat a variety of maladies including rheumatism, gout, high fever and even devil possession.

In recent years, it has also taken on a reputation for being an aphrodisiac and cancer cure.

“Nothing is more tragic than to see this totally unnecessary and brutal killing of an animal for its horn, and the horn in turn has zero medicinal value,” said Pelham Jones, a leader of the South Africa Private Rhino Owners Association. — Reuters

We make it make sense

If this story helped you navigate your world, subscribe to the M&G today for just R30 for the first three months

Subscribers get access to all our best journalism, subscriber-only newsletters, events and a weekly cryptic crossword.”

Jon Herskovitz
Jon Herskovitz has over 313 followers on Twitter.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Latest stories

Gaseous explosion probably caused death of 21 young people at...

Expert says it will be a few weeks before a final determination is made on the cause of death

Eskom wage deadlock ends, setting SA back on course to...

This is according to Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, who placed the blame for stage six load-shedding on unprotected strike action

Nearly 800 years later, the fires of the Benin bronze...

Ancient art has been carried out in the same street by smiths for dozens of generations

Pensioner again used in alleged multimillion-rand police corruption

Salamina Khoza’s RDP home in Soshanguve, Tshwane, emerged as the SAPS’s alleged fraud headquarters
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×