South African rhino killed with AK-47 assault rifle, horns stolen

By Rhishja Larson


A young rhino was killed Friday night at a resort near Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, by poachers who shot him with an AK-47 assault rifle, the South African media reported.

According to News 24, the eight-year-old rhino was found on Saturday morning, with both horns missing and an AK-47 cartridge nearby. The game manager at the Karkloof Spa reserve, Brendan Gevers, told a local newspaper that this particular rhino was a familiar sight on the property.

“The rhino was born here on the property. We would see him on a daily basis. We have now lost our breeding bull,” Gevers said.

A provnicial wildlife investigator, Rod Potter, was reported saying that there had so far been 11 poaching cases in the KwaZulu-Natal province this year.

This latest incident brings the year’s total to 127 rhinos reportedly killed in South Africa by poachers, although one South African newspaper reported this week that the total for the year was now more than 140.

Demand for illegal rhino horn

The demand for illegal rhino horn has driven rhino poaching to new heights over the past few years.

In 2007, South Africa lost 13 rhinos to poachers. However, in 2008 the number spiked to 83, and increased again in 2009 to 122.

Recent research by the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC found that most illegal rhino horn leaving southern Africa is destined for consumer markets in China and Vietnam, where it is used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Rhino horn is considered a valuable ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine and historically used as a treatment for a wide variety of ailments, including fever, boils, anxiety–and even devil possession.

However, extensive scientific analysis has found that rhino horn actually contains no curative properties–and has been compared to having the same medicinal effect as chewing one’s own fingernails.

The AK-47 is a Russian-made assault rifle designed for combat. The weapon was distributed widely throughout Africa during the Soviet era.

Photo licensed under Wikimedia Commons

Rhino horn: All myth, no medicine

Rhishja Larson is the founder and Program Director of Saving Rhinos LLC, a public awareness program focusing on the illegal trade in rhino horn. She shares news, opinion, and commentary on her blog Rhino Conservation: Rhino Horn is Not Medicine.

The views expressed here are those of Rhishja Larson or Saving Rhinos and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. 


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More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn