Rhino poaching: How bad is it?

2010-10-14 07:37
Cape Town - Rhino poaching has been a hot topic of late. In September, 11 people, including two veterinarians, a pilot and a game farmer, all allegedly part of a rhino poaching syndicate, were appeared in court where they were granted bail.

Dr Jacques Flamand of the WWF Black Rhino Expansion Programme answers some questions about rhino poaching in South Africa.

News24: Just how bad is the poaching problem in SA?

Jacques Flamand: It is huge - the figures of the past few years for South Africa speak for themselves.
7 in 2000
6 in 2001
25 in 2002
22 in 2003
10 in 2004
13 in 2005
24 in 2006
13 in 2007
83 in 2008
122 in 2009
230 in 2010 to date.

News24: Besides rhino, what other animals are in danger of being poached?
Jacques Flamand: Other animals are not as threatened in numerical terms, but elephant for ivory and the illegal meat hunting is rife.

News24: What are the main reasons people poach animals?
Jacques Flamand: Depends on who it is. Some of it is subsistence poaching for meat. For rhino it is greed – huge potential profits to be made by exporting the horn illegally to Asia – and superstition that rhino horn helps medicinally – which it does not.

News24: Has poaching always been this bad, or is this a recent thing?
Jacques Flamand: See the figures above. For rhino poaching was always a few a year, but now we are dealing with a huge increase in rhino poaching. This may be linked to increased demand by a growing middle class in China and other Far East countries and also the diminished numbers of rhino to the north of SA.

News24: What can be done about the situation?
Jacques Flamand: We currently only have increased vigilance at our disposal, good monitoring of the rhino populations and improved security. Also, the courts must impose the sentences commensurate with the priority crime that rhino poaching is.

News24: What is your organisation doing to help the rhino poaching situation?
Jacques Flamand: WWF contributes to assist Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife in protecting its rhinos by purchasing equipment, training rangers, paying for helicopter hours, ear notching rhinos, carrying out surveys in the field, etc. It also tries to increase the rate of black rhino breeding by various projects.

News24: Where is rhino poaching most rife?
Jacques Flamand: It seems to be in the northernmost regions of South Africa and in Kruger Park, but nowhere has been spared.

News24: What happens to rhinos when their horns are taken? Are they killed?
Jacques Flamand: Unfortunately, the rhinos are generally killed or terribly maimed and subsequently die.

News24: If they survive, how does not having horns affect their quality of life?
Jacques Flamand: Rhinos can live quite well without horns. In the past dehorning was considered an option and it was indeed tried in Zimbabwe and Namibia, but it costs a lot of money and the horn re-grows (bear in mind that there are over 20 000 rhinos in SA). On the downside, the rhinos lose a tool for defence, which could be important for black rhino, especially if they need to defend their calves against predators.
Read more on:    wwf  |  poaching

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