Killing them won't stop rhino poachers

2011-09-21 22:38
Cape Town - Killing poachers will not solve the problem of rhino poaching alone, unless the market for rhino horn is also eliminated, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has said.

"If we don't deal with the demand side, we can threaten to kill as many poachers as we like, the extreme poverty driven situation in which poaching sometimes takes place means that there are 150 - 200 people ready to step into a dead man's boots," Dr Morné Du Plessis, CEO of WWF South Africa told News24.

He said that as the Asian economy was growing, people had more disposal income to buy rhino horn and this was fuelling the market.

The demand for rhino horn, particularly from Asia, has made it more expensive than gold, despite that fact that it is composed of keratin, the same material as human nails.


"Rhino horn is a classically expensive product to buy and more people are now in a position to afford it.

"There is no scientific evidence however underpinning the fact that there are medicinal properties associated with rhino horn. This is a fallacious belief and this is something that the WWF is working very hard at combating," said.

Thursday is World Rhino Day and the WWF hopes that the awareness created will contribute significantly to increased funding of rhino protection and education programmes.

"WWF started World Rhino Day in South Africa last year and raised a million rand in the process. This money has been spent on increased enforcement and anti-poaching activities, training of rangers, equipment and DNA sampling.

"The awareness component is something that's fundamentally important to World Rhino Day," said.

He said that the day was part of an ongoing campaign to protect rhinos, but would give South Africans an opportunity to focus their energies on the danger to South Africa's rhino population.

There are close to 20 000 white rhino (Ceratotherium simum) in the country, but the populations of black rhino (Diceros bicornis) are critically endangered, with about 4 000 animals in Southern Africa.

"A lot of money is necessary in order to prevent the increases in rhino poaching and through Rhino Day, it provides a focus for people to actually put their money where their hearts are," said.


He said that poisoning the horns as has been suggested may not be effective because the WWF was not interested in harming people.

Also, rhino horn is used to fashion ceremonial daggers called jambiyas which have traditionally been made in the Middle East.

"There are various suggestions about how one can go about limiting poaching: One of them is poisoning the horn. We do not have human beings in our cross-hairs.

"You can poison horns as much as you like and you're not going to stop that kind of ornamentation. Nothing is completely foolproof so you have to do things on multiple fronts," Du Plessis said.

In SA, a total of 333 rhinos were killed and dehorned countrywide in 2010 and 162 people linked to poaching were arrested.

Du Plessis insisted that the awareness created by Rhino Day be used to impact on the demand side for rhino horn.

"Most of all, we have to get to the root, and that's the market - the demand side of the problem."

 - Follow Duncan on Twitter
Read more on:    wwf  |  animals  |  poaching

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