Despite global efforts to protect the endangered rhinoceros population by the World Wildlife Fund and other conservation groups, WWF has announced that rhino poaching in South Africa is more rampant than ever, doubling annually in the last three years.
An astonishing 333 rhinos were illegally killed in South Africa in 2010 – nearly one a day — including 10 critically endangered black rhinos, according to South African national park officials. The annual total is the highest ever experienced in South Africa and nearly triple 2009 numbers when 122 rhinos were killed. An additional 21 rhinos were slaughtered in January of this year.
Kruger National Park, South Africa’s iconic safari destination, was hardest hit, losing 146 rhinos to poaching in 2010, authorities said. The park is home to the largest populations of both white and black rhinos in the country.
Rhino poaching has been rising elsewhere across Africa, too, threatening to reverse hard-won population gains achieved by governments and conservation groups in the last few decades.
South Africa is home to approximately 21,000 rhinos, the largest population of any country in the world. About 1,670 of those are black rhinos, which are listed as critically endangered with only about 4,200 remaining worldwide, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The country’s other resident species, white rhinos, are classified as near threatened on IUCN’s Red List of threatened species.
South Africa has intensified its law enforcement efforts, making 163 poaching arrests last year, but it has not been enough to deter criminals motivated by financial gain in selling the coveted rhinoceros horn, prized in traditional Asian medicine. Demand has heightened for rhinoceros horn in Asia, especially in China, where it has long been regarded as a cure for a broad range of ailments, and in Vietnam, where claims that rhino horn possesses cancer-curing properties are gaining a wide hold. Despite studies, no medical evidence has ever shown any actual therapeutic effects associated with the ingestion of powdered rhino horn.
WWF says the current wave of poaching is being committed by sophisticated criminal networks using helicopters, night-vision equipment, veterinary tranquilizers and silencers to kill rhinos at night while attempting to avoid law enforcement patrols.
“This is not typical poaching,” said Dr. Joseph Okori, WWF African Rhino Program Manager. “The criminal syndicates operating in South Africa are highly organized and use advanced technologies. They are very well coordinated.”
How WWF is working to fight rhino poaching
In South Africa, WWF’s Black Rhino Range Expansion Project aims to increase the overall numbers of black rhino by making available additional breeding lands through partnerships with owners of large areas of black rhino habitat.
WWF and TRAFFIC – the joint WWF and IUCN wildlife trade monitoring network – are supporting anti-poaching efforts both on the ground and internationally. In South Africa, the groups are helping train local rangers, facilitating regional dialogue on security, and introducing new technologies such as transmitters in rhino horns and sniffer dogs. Internationally, WWF and TRAFFIC are working to address the demand for rhino horn in Vietnam by working with regional bodies to monitor rhino horn trade and by finding policy solutions.
Crawford Allan, regional director of TRAFFIC North America, said, “Stemming the demand for rhino horn among Asian communities is the sustainable solution to this challenge — improving awareness, stronger penalties and finding alternatives are complex and tough approaches to implement but they also have to be rolled out now wherever a market persists, to complement the urgent enforcement efforts.”
How you can help
Your donation to World Wildlife Fund supports global conservation efforts worldwide, including the intensive campaign to battle rhino poaching in South Africa. You can also receive news updates from WWF and join the organization’s “Take Action” campaigns to protect rhinos and other wildlife, when you visit their website.
See rhinos in the wild
Despite the inroads poachers continue to make in South Africa, travelers can still see this incredible member of the legendary “Big Five” on many African safaris with Natural Habitat Adventures, which is proud to be WWF’s exclusive Conservation Travel Provider. An especially exciting opportunity is available at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya, a global pacesetter for bringing back endangered species. On a visit to the reserve, you’ll learn about successful efforts to rehabilitate white and black rhinoceros and other rare animals as you participate in a host of game-viewing and cultural activities. For more information on this trip and all of our Africa offerings, chat with one of our expert Adventure Specialists: 1-800-543-8917.
Thank you for caring about conservation,