Rhino poaching in South Africa reaches unprecedented levels, frustrating parks authorities
1,020 rhinos have been killed by poachers this year in South Africa, the highest amount recorded in a single year.
“To date, a total of 1,020 rhino have been killed for their horn since January 1, 2014”, said a statement issued by the South African Department of Environmental Affairs. The majority of these killings took place in Kruger National Park, which is roughly the size of Israel.
Rhino killings have been increasing exponentially for the last seven years, growing from 13 in 2007 to 1,004 in 2013. The poaching is largely motivated by demand for rhinoceros horns in Vietnam and China, where they are widely believed to have healing properties.
The horns are ground into powder and used as treatments for anything from nosebleeds to strokes. They are largely made up of keratin, the primary component in human hair and fingernails and the scientific consensus is that they do not in fact have any healing capabilities at all.
The initiatives set forward by the South African government have failed to protect the threatened white rhinos native to the country. The country is currently employing its armed forces, using helicopters and ground forces to spot and intercept poachers.
“Unfortunately the threat of poaching has continued to escalate while various multifaceted interventions are being implemented by South Africa,” said Rose Masela, South Africa’s Minister of Environmental Affairs.
“We are concerned that poaching is part of a multi-billion dollar worldwide illicit wildlife trade. Addressing the scourge is not simple.”
“If we hadn’t made the interventions we did we’d probably be seeing the rhino population going toward extinction maybe in the next few years,” said Masela.
The white rhino species native to South Africa is the primary poachers target and is now classified as Near Threatened, as the population has fallen below 20,000.
The increasing demand for their horns has given rise to a number of sophisticated and highly profitable poaching syndicates. These crime rings use advanced technologies, such as night vision, silenced weapons and helicopters, to conduct their operations. The rhinos are large, nonviolent herd animals, making them extremely easy targets for poachers.
Kruger National Park is bordered by Mozambique and it’s through this border that most poachers enter and exit South Africa. In Mozambique, poaching and its related activities are only classified as misdemeanours.
There have been 344 poachers arrested so far this year, also a record number.
A proposed solution to the epidemic has been the legalization of the rhino horn trade. If passed, game farmers could harvest a kilogram of horn per year from each rhino without killing it.
“There’s very little we can do about the belief in the use of rhino horn that exists in other countries,” Masela said in reference to markets in Asia.
“Legalization would be a more medium-term solution.”
It is believed that legalization could drive down the price of rhinoceros horns, dissuading poachers, while also providing private rhinoceros owners with capital with which to protect their herds.
By weight, rhinoceros horns are more valuable than gold. A single kilogram can range from $65,000 to $95,000, whereas gold trades at a value of around $37,000 per kilogram.