The Reality of Rhino Poaching

rhino poaching

Early in 2010 the last Java Rhino was shot in Vietnam bringing about the extinction of the species. This came at a time, when Rhino poaching across southern Africa was experiencing a rapid increase, as we have previously reported on this blog. Even in the UK, zoo keepers and safari park managers have been placed on alert for poachers and antique rhino horn from museums has also been stolen in recent times.

Often criticised for being slow to react to the massive increase in poaching, the South African government held a public hearing on rhino poaching in Cape Town at the end of January. A number of facts have emerged from this meeting to suggest the picture is not as bleak as many feared, but there remains the need for vigilance to protect the animals in Africa. Perhaps the most surprising fact that has emerged recently is that population of black and white rhino is still growing despite the recent surge in poaching. WWF South Africa has revealed that the annual growth of the overall rhino population is about 7% in the country.

Poaching, even with the recent dramatic increase, is removing about 2% of the population annually. Although a low figure, it is still totally unacceptable, as is the cruel way in which animals are tranquilised and left to slowly die once their horns have been ripped away.

What we should be praising is the effort of the South Africans in responding to the poaching threat. January’s public hearing revealed that poaching in KZN, one of the provinces with the highest rhino population, declined by 13% in 2011. South African law enforcement officials made 232 poaching related arrests in 2011, up from 165 the previous year. The maximum sentence received is now as high as 16 years.

Dead rhino with calf

Still the poachers are out there continuing these cruel and futile acts. National park authorities are up against sophisticated international criminal syndicates. With an estimated value ofUS$20 billion annually, the rhino horn trade is considered to be third most lucrative crime trade in the world, behind drugs and human trafficking. Poaching is driven by a thriving demand largely caused by a rumour. It started in Vietnam six years ago with a claim that rhino horn had cured cancer in a former politician. Neither the politician nor the form of cancer were identified, but the rumour spread rapidly and the price of rhino horn surged. In 2011, it hit a record high of more than $60,000 per kilo – a higher price than gold.

For all the efforts of the park authorities, the most effective way to tackle this problem would seem to be the reduction in demand for the end product. Given that there is no proven medicinal property of rhino horn, the fact that animals are killed so barbarically is even harder to bear. Traditional Chinese medicine experts have gone to great lengths to state that rhino horn has no cancer treating properties and, contrary to popular myth, has never been used in traditional medicine as an aphrodisiac. This has not stopped the Chinese starting to farm rhino for their horns however.

It seems the rhino is not in imminent danger in South Africa yet, but clearly the escalating rate of poaching is a cause for concern. It cannot be allowed to increase at the exponential rate we are currently experiencing. This is an emotive subject, but one which is ultimately grounded in common sense. With no medical benefit whatsoever to the end consumer how tragic that even one rhino should be killed based on myth and stupidity.

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