Four white rhinos were poached for their horns in a privately owned nature reserve in South Africa this week, taking the total number of rhinos killed illegally in the country in the first three quarters of 2012 to more than 400. The total number of rhinos poached in South Africa in all of 2011 was 448, compared with 333 in 2010.
The four rhinos killed in the most recent poaching incident appeared to have been darted and tranquilized, said Vernon Wait, marketing director at the Lalibela Game Reserve in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province. “The rhino grouped together in a typically protective formation and collapsed under the effects of the tranquilizer. Most likely while still alive, they were all de-horned by the poachers using saws.”
Three rhinos were found dead in the morning. The fourth, a pregnant cow, was still alive, but barely so, Wait said in an email. “We communicated this to the Department of Environmental Affairs and were given the go-ahead to euthanize the cow. Our head ranger, Kelly Pote, was given the unpleasant task of putting the cow out of her painful misery.”
The devastation at Lalibela has become an almost daily occurrence across South Africa, a country once recognized as the world leader in the restoration and conservation of the endangered rhinoceros. Earlier this week, the government-run South African Broadcasting Corporation reported that nine rhino carcasses were found in in nature parks in northern KwaZulu-Natal province.
Spiegel Online reported last month that rhinoceroses’ horns can be sold to markets in Asia for up to U.S. $133 per gram (about $5 per ounce). “That sort of profit margin is generally only possible in drug- or sex-trafficking, so it’s hardly surprising that international mobs control this trade, as well,” the Spiegel article said. “While rhinoceros horns are stolen from natural history museums in Germany, in Kenya and South Africa, poachers hunt rhinoceroses and then transport their loot to Vietnam, Laos and China, where some believe that rhinoceros-horn powder can cure illnesses from cancer to malaria.”
“We appeal to you to tell whoever you can about the plight of the rhino and to do whatever you can to stop the carnage.”
“The loss of these four rhinos is a devastating blow for us at Lalibela and rhino conservation in Africa,” Vernon Wait told National Geographic News Watch. “We are mindful that our loss constitutes only one percent of the total number of rhino poached in South Africa this year. This number is now over 400. This incident serves to remind us of the cancer that is greed that exists in our society. People who are prepared to do this for money would be prepared to do anything for money. As custodians of these creatures, we appeal to you to tell whoever you can about the plight of the rhino and to do whatever you can to stop the carnage.”
In the video below, Vernon Wait discusses the poaching incident at Lalibela Game Reserve:
Sustainable Tourism and Local Employment
Lalibela was formed as a partnership of neighboring farms in 2002. Through land incorporation and acquisition, the property now spans 18,500 acres (7,500 hectares), most of it roadless. The reserve has re-introduced many of the large animals that once roamed that part of southern Africa, including the Big Five. According to the Lalibela website, the sanctuary is “a sustainable tourism product that provides employment for our rural community as well as contributing to the survival of many species of endangered game for the benefit of the generations to come. These two aspects are reflected in Lalibela’s stated vision, which is to ‘help develop the Eastern Cape’s natural and human resources in order to grow tourism in a socially responsible and ecologically sensitive way’.”
Lalibela has set up a web page to focus on the loss of its rhinos and what can be done to save the species as a whole.
David Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.
He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.
Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship.