South Africa’s rhino population is under attack, with an estimated 100 gunned down for their horns over the past year — a staggering 1000% increase compared with 2007.
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Rhino carnage continues
Surge in rhino poaching
Government officials and private landowners this week confirmed a massive increase in rhino poaching over the past year, raising fears of a wildlife killing spree similar to those decimating reserves in neighbouring countries such as Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
It is the first time in more than 15 years that the situation has spiralled out of control.
And it is not just protected rhino in the firing line: several other wildlife species are now being targeted because of a rampant trade in bush meat. Authorities are battling a growing army of armed poachers, whose ranks are swelling because of rural poverty.
This week the Sunday Times established that:
- The number of rhinos poached within SA National Parks’ land increased by nearly 300% in 2008 (36 rhinos) compared with 2007 (10 rhinos);
- An estimated 50 rhinos were poached on private game reserves in 2008 ; and
- Thirteen rhinos were shot dead on Christmas Day last year, including six on a private reserve in North West.
Although the exact reason for the increase remains unclear, wildlife experts suspect sophisticated poaching cartels are taking advantage of ineffective law enforcement.
There is also speculation that a recent tightening of restrictions on legal rhino hunting has prevented trophy horns from ending up as contraband.
The government issues about 200 rhino hunting licences a year, but has moved to tighten control of the horns — placing a moratorium on their sale or trade — after it emerged that buyers were posing as hunters to get hold of the horns.
The spiralling cost of private hunts has also prompted buyers to turn to poachers for an alternative horn supply, despite massive penalties.
The problem is fuelled by a significant increase in available animals in the country’s estimated 9500 private game reserves. Previously, poaching was mostly restricted to government parks.
Wildlife authorities this week confirmed the poaching crisis, but said they were puzzled by the sudden increase. Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism deputy director Sonja Meintjies conceded the problem may be indirectly related to rhino hunting because of soaring prices in the animal trade.
“We don’t have a handle on it (the reasons for poaching),” said Jeff Gaisford, spokesman for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, who confirmed a huge increase in poached rhinos in the province’s parks.