Southern Africa is home to the last remaining populations of White and Black rhino, the only two species out of the five remaining in the world that have a fighting chance of survival.
A global problem
Rhinos have been around for more than 50 million years and have significantly influenced the evolution of the world’s ecological systems. They were not just confined to Africa: in 1994, archaeologists in France uncovered rock art paintings depicting rhino in the Chauvet Cave, which are thought to be around 32,000 years old.
The world rhino population has fallen by more than 90% in the past 30 years. Today, only 5 species remain and all of them are threatened in some way. Three are listed as critically endangered. In November 2011, the IUCN announced that the Western Black Rhino was officially extinct and that only a handful of the Javan Rhino still survive in Indonesia.
Three main factors have driven the recent increase in rhino poaching: traditional eastern medicine, habitat loss and political conflict. Of these, the first is primarily responsible for the recent alarming trends in South Africa; it is driven by the dramatic increase in demand for ground rhino horn in the East, primarily from China.
Powdered rhino horn is selling for over ZARR480,000 (US$60,000) per Kg on the international market. It is more expensive than gold, platinum – and cocaine.
A national tragedy
It is estimated that South Africa is home to 18,700 White Rhino and only 1,900 Black rhino (2010 statistics). More than 1,000 rhino have been killed by poachers in South Africa in the last five years.
As we begin 2012, stakeholders in both the conservation and government sectors are sounding the alarm that if the current levels of poaching continue unchecked, we could be looking at the extermination of South Africa’s White and Black rhino populations in as little as 15 years, and the complete extinction of these two species in under 40 years.
In South Africa, poachers earn up to R40,000 (US$5,000) per Kg. As a rhino’s horn can weigh up to 6Kgs, they can nett as much as R240,000 (US$30,000) for a night’s work. Spotters also get paid – up to R50,000 (US$6,250) for helping a successful poaching effort.
In 2010, arrests for poaching numbered 165 and in 2011, this increased to 232.
South Africa’s rhino poaching crisis is being driven by well funded and organised criminal networks that stretch far beyond the country’s borders. From ‘spotters’ on hill-tops armed with a cell phone, to poaching teams who strike after careful planning and then hand their booty onto transporters, a rhino’s horn is moved up a chain to a ring of national coordinators who move it on to exporters, finally reaching its destination in the East and sold to consumers.
The response has to involve every level of government, the conservation NGO community, all law enforcement agencies, national and provincial conservation bodies and every private game reserve and rhino owner. It is one of the most complex crimes to ever affect South Africa.
In Project Rhino KZN, whilst we work willingly at all levels of the problem, our primary concern is to protect the rhinos in KZN’s game reserves and so our efforts are directed at improving on-the-ground anti-poaching strategies. These are wide ranging and include:
* Equipping anti-poaching teams and improving their skills
* Increasing the numbers of camera traps in our members’ reserves and implementing technology to improve rhino protection efforts
* Sharing information and intelligence
* Increasing our community education and awareness work
* Working in communities surrounding vulnerable reserves
* Supporting the SAPS and state Prosecution teams to ensure convictions
* Establishing a specialist Rhino Poaching Response Team that will be available for 9 private game reserves and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife reserves.
Visit this organisation http://www.projectrhinokzn.org