Thursday, 19 November 2009


Well-funded poaching syndicates are cashing in on Asia’s demand for rhino horn - and jeopardizing decades of rhino conservation efforts in South Africa.

The reason behind the current 15-year high in rhino poaching is no longer a mystery or “baffling” to experts: It is fueled by the insatiable demands of a newly affluent - and increasing - population in Asia.

Commercial rhino poaching has become a well-oiled machine - and the “new Asian wealth” is bankrolling the slaughter.Today’s rhino poachers

Heavily funded, politically connected, and well-armed, today’s rhino poachers use helicopters to fly into Africa’s game reserves to kill rhino with the latest high-powered weapons.

In a recent Guardian article, chief executive of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, Yolan Friedmann, said the average number of rhino killed has skyrocketed from 10 to 100 yearly.

There has been a rampant increase in South Africa. Poaching figures for this year have already surpassed the whole of last year. It’s probably the worst it’s been for 15 years. There’s a lot more money going into poaching and it’s becoming more hi-tech. It’s no longer just a man with a bow and arrow wading through the bush. These guys are using helicopters and AK-47 rifles.

Despite the once successful Save the Rhino project, rhinos are under siege. South Africa is facing a crisis. We’ve done extremely well in rhino conservation, but something has changed in the past 18 months, there’s an insatiable appetite for rhino horn in the far east.

Cathy Dean, director of Save the Rhino International, says in the article that the surge in poaching is a threat to years of hard-earned success in rhino conservation.

The gains of the last decade are in real jeopardy. The underlying concern is that this upsurge in rhino poaching – a major issue in Zimbabwe as well as South Africa – is no longer opportunistic poaching by individuals but carried out by … highly sophisticated criminal gangs.

So far this year, 84 rhino have been killed in South Africa. In 2007, the number was 13.

Unfortunately, commercial rhino poaching has become widespread: Zimbabwe’s rhino population is also suffering at the hands of a politically connected poaching cartel that fulfills “orders” from Chinese nationals for rhino horn.

And illegal killing isn’t the only way rhino horn enters Asia’s flourishing endangered species marketplace.

Exploiting loopholes

The Vietnamese are getting into the rhino killing business by exploiting loopholes in South African trophy hunting laws. Most notable is the incident involving Dwesa Nature Reserve.

Earlier this year, Dwesa Nature Reserve auctioned off the right to kill six rhino to the trophy hunting operation, African Scent Safaris. Afterward, it was confirmed that Vietnamese clients of African Scent Safaris killed two rhino and had the horns exported to Vietnam.

When it was discovered that Vietnamese hunt participants were having the horns shipped to Asia in order to sell them in the thriving illegal market, members of PHASA (Professional Hunters’ Association of South Africa) were advised not to “book and conduct hunts with nationals from Vietnam or other Far Eastern countries.”

Susan Lieberman, WWF species program director, explains the growing Vietnamese interest in rhino horn in a National Geographic article.

There is some mythology developing in Vietnam because somebody took rhino horn and went into cancer remission, or at least that is the information we’re getting.

But it is not, and never was, a cure for cancer.

The Guardian also reported that a Vietnamese diplomat took delivery of rhino horn outside the Vietnamese embassy in Pretoria; the exchange was caught on film.

It was further noted that

… there was growing evidence of Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai nationals’ involvement in the illegal procurement and transport of horn out of Africa.

Can education overcome superstition?

According to journalist Ben Davies, author of Black Market: Inside the Endangered Species Trade in Asia, much of the wildlife trade in Asia is based on superstitions that have been in existence for generations.

If only it was ignorance fueling this bizarre obsession with wildlife, it could eventually be solved with education - much in the way it was in Europe.

In the case of Asia, however, vast increases in human population combined with growing affluence are driving ever-larger numbers of animals down the road to extinction.

Davies believes that the battle to control the illegal wildlife trade will eventually be won - or lost - in Asia’s classrooms.

In the meantime?

It is likely to take decades before Asian superstitions about wildlife are overcome by education. And the superstition surrounding rhino horn will be especially challenging: The rarer the animal, the more desirable its alleged “powers” become.

At the other end, arrests are made, yet poaching continues. The Guardian reported a number of arrests made in South Africa this year.

At least 14 poachers, all Mozambican, have been arrested and several illegal firearms seized in Kruger this year. Nationwide, 22 poachers were caught. In January an international rhino-smuggling ring was smashed and 11 people were arrested.

Commercial rhino poaching is thriving - and here we are still talking about “what to do.”

The issue of rhino poaching will be discussed at the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, which will be held in Doha, Qatar March 13-25, 2010.

In the meantime, how many more rhino killings must we tolerate - just to satisfy “superstitions”?

Written by Rhishja Larson - Eco Worldy.


Desire Fourie said...

Thanks for spreading awareness about the Rhino.

LilyBelle said...

This is really horrible, Pumpy! This type of thing only confirms my belief that we humans will eventually destroy our own world and ourselves with it!

Pumpy said...

I agree LilyBelle, What is the world coming to, at least I say to myself I am on the way out but the poor Darlings that follow us.

Anonymous said...

Sad to note that the Eastern Cape Parks Board will be offering more than 30 white rhino to be sold on auction later this month (29th May 2010). Custodians of wildlife such as the above Board should hold more respect for the animals entrusted to them, especially protected species such as the white rhino.

Pumpy said...

I agree with you Anonyous. Please come by and give more comments.