Rhinos at risk get US crime-fighting boost
Washington - A US-based animal protection
group said on Wednesday it is collecting money for a new initiative to equip
rangers in South Africa and Zimbabwe with crime-scene kits to better track
The programme was announced just weeks after
rhino poaching in South Africa hit a record high for the year, and follows more
troubling news that several species of rhino have been poached into extinction
or close to it.
The rare, lumbering creatures are increasingly
targeted to supply organized crime syndicates selling rhino horn for use in
Asian medicinal treatments, especially in Vietnam, where it is believed to cure
The initiative aims to cut back on rhino
deaths by boosting the investigative prowess of those who try to stop the
sophisticated poachers, who often use helicopters, night vision equipment and
Fewer than five percent of poachers are ever
convicted, according to the International Rhino Foundation, which is launching
the new program called "Operation Stop Poaching Now."
The effort targets 11 "highly threatened
rhino habitats in South Africa and Zimbabwe," the foundation said.
Funds donated to the campaign "will go
toward providing rangers with training in investigative techniques,
intelligence gathering, evidence collection, communications, and rhino
identification and monitoring," it said.
Some $55 000 have already been raised, and
the foundation is aiming to collect $25 000 more in donations over the next
four weeks in the hopes of training up to 300 rangers.
Rangers will get crime-scene kits that
contain a camera, a metal detector, a GPS system, finger-printing materials and
sealable evidence bags. Most of them currently do not have any of this equipment,
a spokesperson told AFP.
"It's an unbelievably difficult and
dangerous job," said Susie Ellis, executive director of the International
"But there are thousands of dedicated,
passionate rangers in South Africa, Zimbabwe and other range countries trying
to stand in between the rhinos and the poachers."
The World Wildlife Fund has said that rhino
poaching in South Africa hit a new record high last year, with 341 of the
animals, which often reach one ton or more in weight, lost to poachers.
WWF also confirmed that rhinos have gone
extinct in Vietnam, with the country's last Javan rhino found shot with its
Separately, the International Union for the
Conservation of Nature, which compiles the Red List of Threatened Species, said
earlier this month that a subspecies of black rhino native to western Africa is
Central Africa's northern white rhino was
also listed as "possibly extinct in the wild."
Booming demand has driven the price to half a
million dollars per horn, according to the Convention on International Trade in
The low conviction rate for poachers means
"they are literally getting away with murder," Ellis said.
A partner of the International Rhino
Foundation, the Lowveld Rhino Trust, has already done some of the crime-scene
training for law enforcement officials in Zimbabwe.
Six months after the training, nine poachers
have been convicted and sentenced to 10-20 years each, a spokesperson said.