According to a new report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), poachers in South Africa have been killing rhinos at an alarming rate this year. The WWF says that 193 rhinos have already been claimed by poachers in 2011, which is far ahead of 2010, when 333 rhinos were killed during the entire year.
South Africa has the highest population of rhinos in the world, with more than 19,400 white rhinos and another 1600+ black rhinos calling the country home. Of those, 12,000 white rhinos live inside Kruger National Park, which shares a 186-mile border with Mozambique. Many poachers sneak across the border from that country, often stalking their prey with high powered rifles and helicopters, and then slip back before authorities even know they’ve been there.
Most poachers are looking to harvest the horns of rhinos, which are made up of keratin, the same material that is in our hair or fingernails. Many cultures believe that the horn has special healing properties, and it is often used in traditional medicines throughout the world. In recent years, there has been a spike in demand for rhino horns in Asia, despite the fact that it is illegal to kill the creatures. As a result, the price for a horn has gone up and poachers have been more active.
South Africa takes the threat of poaching very seriously, and this year alone there have been 123 arrests for the crime. They have also instituted harsher penalties for those who are convicted as well, including higher fines and longer jail terms. So far those measures don’t seem to be much of a deterrent. There have even been a number of poachers killed in shootouts with park rangers this year as well, and yet they still continue to kill the animals and harvest their much coveted horns.
Earlier this year I had the opportunity to visit Kruger National Park, where I not only ran into a group of anti-poaching park rangers, I had the chance to chat with locals about the issue. They were all greatly concerned about the brutal attacks on the wildlife there, and expressed their outrage that foreigners were crossing the border to kill the rhinos. They also were unsure exactly what could be done to prevent it from happening, as it seems impossible to be able to patrol the border on a constant basis. Now, just a few months later, the rhinos of Kruger are being killed off at the rate of more than one per day.