Rhino poaching continues in South Africa even as arrests increase
Already this year 71 rhinoceros have been killed in South Africa, a figure that amounts to nearly one per day. South African National Parks officials say 64 suspected poachers have been arrested in 2011.
A record 333 rhinos were poached in South Africa in 2010 and 164 suspects were arrested last year.
Kruger National Park, home to the country’s largest population of rhinos, continues to be the most active location of both poaching and arrests. Of this year’s rhino deaths, 46 have been reported in Kruger, along with half of the total arrests.
Rhinos constitute one of the much-revered “Big 5” of African wildlife tourism, including elephants, lions, leopards and Cape buffalo. South Africa is home to approximately 21,000 rhinos, more than any other country in the world.
Rhino poaching across Africa has risen sharply in the past few years, threatening to reverse hard-won population increases achieved by conservation authorities during the 20th century. The first alarming spike occurred in 2008 when 83 rhinos were lost, and the number of deaths has increased every year since then.
The current wave of poaching is being committed by sophisticated criminal networks using helicopters, night-vision equipment, veterinary tranquilisers and silencers to kill rhinos at night while attempting to avoid law enforcement patrols.
The recent killing increase is largely due to heightened demand for rhino horn, which has long been prized as an ingredient in traditional Asian medicine. It has been claimed recently that rhino horn possesses cancer-curing properties, despite there being no medical evidence to support the assertion.
Black rhinos are listed as critically endangered with only about 4,200 remaining in existence, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Approximately 1,670 black rhinos were believed to be living in South Africa in 2009. The country's other resident species, white rhinos, are classified as near threatened on IUCN’s Red List of threatened species.
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.
This is done by forming partnerships with owners of large areas of natural black rhino habitat. So far, 98 black rhino have been translocated to new range lands and at least 26 calves have been born on project sites.