Twenty-one rhinos in South Africa have been killed so far this year despite measures adopted to halt the surge of poaching after a record number of rhinos were killed in 2010, the head of the South African National Parks said Monday.
“The loss of 333 rhinos to poaching in 2010 was a devastating loss for us but we are determined that in 2011 that should not happen,” parks chief David Mabunda said in a statement.
Although rhinos are still being killed, Mabunda told AFP that the government’s efforts to bring an end to poaching have paid off as five suspected rhino poachers had been killed so far this year. He also said police have arrested 31 people involved in the illegal business in the same period.
“Anyone who is involved in poaching at whatever level will be a prime target for our investigations and we will leave no stone unturned in this respect, including going for the kingpins of these operations,” said Mabunda.
The government, in October, launched a crime investigation unit to crack down on poachers. Parks and game reserves have also introduced anti-poaching programs, which include dying rhino horns, using micro-chips, and even cutting the horns off before poachers can get to them.
Pelham Jones, of the Private Rhino Association, told AFP that while the rhino poaching numbers are lower than at the same time last year, there really has not been that much improvement.
“Last year we lost 333 rhinos, which means we lost one rhino every 26 hours,” said Jones. “We are hugely concerned that we have not seen a remarkable reduction and we don’t think the situation is improving.”
Government and conservationists are blaming the surge in rhino deaths by organized poaching syndicates that have gotten better weapons and equipment to aid in their attempts to track down and get their prey. Helicopters, night-vision equipment, tranquilizers and silencers are the high-tech tools used by these criminals now.
South Africa is home to more than 70 percent of the world’s remaining rhinos — about 22,000 total between two subspecies.