SA rhino to approach population decline

2013-08-20 10:40
Wildlands Conservation Trust officials have darted and tagged seven rhino to prevent poaching in Kwa-Zulu Natal. (Luke Pallet, Wildlands Conservation Trust, file)

Wildlands Conservation Trust officials have darted and tagged seven rhino to prevent poaching in Kwa-Zulu Natal. (Luke Pallet, Wildlands Conservation Trust, file)

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Rhino action

2013-08-20 09:58

Dr Jo Shaw argues that supporting the fight against poachers is critical to saving the rhino in this YouTube video.WATCH

Cape Town - With over 500 rhino killed in South Africa this year, the point is nearing where the population will begin to decline, a conservation organisation has said.

"Things are looking pretty depressing right now, I think everyone would agree. We're also getting ever closer to the point where the numbers actually do start declining," Dr Jo Shaw, Rhino Co-ordinator for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-SA) told News24.

According to the department of environmental affairs (DEA), 553 rhino have been poached in SA so far this year. This is on course to nearly double the 668 total of 2012, which was also significantly higher than the 448 poached in 2011.

Nearly half, or 345 rhino, were poached in the Kruger National Park, according to the DEA.

Despite the public outcry and several military-style operations by rangers to arrest poachers, the impact has not resulted in a significant reduction in poaching.

Poaching chain

"I don't think there's any one simple solution, and I don't think there's any one simple problem," said Shaw.

The DEA said that 148 poachers have been arrested in 2013, compared to 267 last year, and 232 in 2011, but the WWF said that the focus should be pointed to Asia while continuing to target local poachers.

"I absolutely agree Asia is the root of the problem - obviously in South Africa we must do as much as we can to protect the rhino, but that's not going to solve the problem. I think that's a key point," Shaw argued.

She said that the criminals operating higher up the poaching chain needed to be targeted.

"I would like to be seeing more arrests higher up the trade chain in this country. We do need to see, even at a national level, more significant arrests further up. That is something that could make an impact in the shorter term."

Shaw echoed the sentiment that poaching syndicates had evolved into organised criminal gangs that operated across national borders.

"These are organised criminal syndicates who are involved in many black market products and they're not necessarily sitting in Vietnam - for example, there are known individuals in Thailand and elsewhere," she said.

Corruption

According to Cites (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), poachers are heavily armed in their determination to kill rhino.

"AK47 assault rifles and 303 calibre rifles have been the most commonly used weapons but, recently, heavier calibre arms (eg .375s and .458s) are now being used," Cites said.

The reality of corruption was illustrated in Mozambique with allegations that rangers turned on the rhino they were meant to protect.

"It is tragic beyond tears that we learn game rangers have now become the enemy in the fight to protect rhino from being poached for their horns," said Kelvin Alie, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare's Wildlife Crime and Consumer Awareness programme.

Rhino are virtually extinct in Mozambique and it is likely that poachers will move to exploit South Africa's rhino as demand drives up the price of the horn, which is made of the same material as hair and fingernails.

Shaw said that anti-poaching should be focused on intermediaries who provide direct or indirect support to poachers.

"Yes, there are serious challenges in Vietnam around law enforcement and if you look along the trade chain, there are also serious challenges in transit countries like Mozambique."


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