Photo: Martin Harvey/WWF-Canon

A recent article in the South African newspaper Times Live reported that two poachers were sentenced to 29 years each in prison for killing a rhino and its calf in Kruger National Park.  The severity of this sentence comes in reaction to the increasingly dire threat to the country’s rhino population posed by the illegal wildlife trade.

According to WWF, there were 13 known cases of rhino poaching in South Africa during 2007, 83 cases in 2008, 122 in 2009, 333 in 2010, and 448 in 2011.  At the current rate, the death toll of rhinos slaughtered by poachers may exceed 500 in 2012.

Wildlife crime throughout Africa and Asia poses an urgent threat to rhinos, elephants and tigers.  With a global value estimated at $7.8 to $10 billion a year, the illegal trade in animal parts ranks right up there with drugs, arms, and human trafficking.  In fact, the activities of international crime syndicates often encompass more than one of these areas.

Approximately 18,000 lbs of rhino horn is traded in Asia annually, with Vietnam as the main market.  Ground and mixed with water or alcoholic beverages, it is believed to have powerful detoxifying properties, even to the extent of curing cancer.  At extremely high prices, the trade in rhino horn caters to the wealthy and the most desperate.

While the South African judiciary is handing down more serious convictions as a deterrent to further poaching, international wildlife organizations are urging Vietnam to strengthen policing measures and penalties for those caught in illegal rhino horn trading, and to educate the public on the fallacy of ingesting animal parts to improve health.  The turning point would be the universal appreciation for rhinos as the magnificent wild creatures they are, not as a perceived miracle cure for human ills.

Learn more about how you can get involved at WWF’s Stop Wildlife Crime site.

Rhinos are magnificent creatures seen only in select places in Africa.  Join Natural Habitat’s Namibia Wildlife Safari, Kenya Migration Safari, or Secluded Tanzania Safari for a chance to view these amazing animals in the wild.