South Africa vows to fight rhino poachers to “last man standing”

The alarming escalation of rhino poaching in South Africa has placed authorities on high alert, says the chief executive of South African National Parks (SANPArks), David Mabunda.

“Perhaps it is no longer appropriate to refer to this spate of illegal killing of rhinos as poaching given the levels of sophistication, violence, precision and the money behind it. We are dealing with unprecedented high levels of organized crime which the Police and all security agencies are helping to defeat,” Mabunda said in a statement posted on the SANParks website.

“We have worked hard as a country, to bring this species back from the brink of extinction and we will continue to defend it even if we become the last man standing,” Mabunda added.

Rhino horn: All myth, no medicine

As of yesterday (Wednesday, 28 July), the official total figure for rhinos poached in South Africa since January this year was 152. The number includes rhinos poached in national and provincial government parks and private reserves.

The Kruger National Park (KNP) alone has lost 1 black rhino and 65 white rhinos to poachers since January, SANParks says in its statement. “The provincial parks suffered a loss of 3 black rhinos and 42 white rhinos while private game owners lost 1 black rhino and 40 white rhinos.”

SANParks said the official tally included rhino calves found dead as a result of their mothers being poached. “The reasoning is that when a rhino cow is poached, and she has a calf with her, the chances of survival of the calf are reduced to near zero and if not found by authorities in time, it could die of starvation or become prey to the various predators in the wild. This is considered poaching at a secondary level and contributes to the decline of the species.”

SANParks estimates the population of white rhinos for South Africa as a whole at 2009 was 19,409, while the black rhino population figures were 1,678. “While it is evident that the breeding populations, especially of white rhinos are stable, the alarming escalation of poaching has authorities on high alert,” the agency said.

Mabunda reiterated his plea to the public to alert the authorities of any suspicious activity noticed in relation to rhino killings. To date 47 suspects comprising of foot-soldiers and high level dealers have been arrested throughout the country.

“Conservation bodies and private owners of rhino reserves alone will not stop this war. We are all responsible for the preservation of our natural heritage and everyone’s help is needed so please stand up and be counted in putting an end to this scourge,” he said.

Poison rhino horns?

The spate of rhino killings in South Africa has people so upset that there is talk in the country’s media of treating the horns on live rhinos with a poison that would kill anyone who consumed medicinal products made from poached horns.

“Ed Hern, owner of the Rhino and Lion Park near Krugersdorp, west of Johannesburg, believes poisoning the horns of rhinos will result in consumers of the product falling ill or dying and knock the demand for this illegal product hard,” the Times reports on its website.

“We need to try poisoning the horns with something like cyanide so when someone uses it for medicine they will die. I have started testing with a vet,” Hern told the newspaper.

Posted by David Braun

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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