A white rhino has been killed by poachers in Nairobi National Park in Kenya, the BBC reports. While it’s the first time in six years that a rhino has been killed in the park, unfortunately the poaching of rhinos in Kenya has been on the rise in recent years.
Kenyan authorities say that 35 rhinos have been killed in their country this year. What makes this incident unusual is that the park is only four miles from downtown Nairobi. Most poachers prefer more remote locations, but the high prices international buyers will pay for rhino horn are making criminals increasingly bold. One group of robbers even stole four rhino heads from an Irish museum.
Police in many African countries are getting tough on poachers. There have been firefights and even a plan to use unmanned drones to search for poachers.
While policing can be effective (over in Asia, Nepal’s rhino population is rebounding) the only thing that will stop the poaching of rhinos is to stop the demand. Rhino horns are valued in East Asian folk medicine, as are body parts from various other animals. Until these countries get serious about changing attitudes in their human population, Africa’s wildlife population will continue to be threatened.
While visiting Tanzania earlier this week President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to helping end illegal wildlife trafficking in Africa. The President indicated that he was ready to get serious about stopping poachers by announcing the formation of a special task force charged with investigating the subject and by pledging $10 million to assist in training local military and law enforcement on methods to deal with the threat.
The Obama Administration first indicated it had an interest in joining the fight against poaching last November when the illegal activity was deemed a threat to U.S. security. Hillary Clinton, who was Secretary of State at the time, promised that the U.S. intelligence community would lend some of its considerable resources to combating the problem and she announced that $100,000 would be used to help launch new law enforcement efforts. Those funds were just the start, however, as the new $10 million aid package should have a deeper and more lasting impact.
Perhaps an even bigger indication that the President is getting serious about wildlife trafficking is the formation of a new Presidential Task Force on the topic. The task force will feature representatives from the Interior, State and Justice Departments who will be given six months to develop a strategy on how the U.S. can assist in the fight against poaching. The results of their investigation could have lasting repercussions with how the U.S. interacts with African nations for years to come.
While numerous species are targeted by poachers the two most common animals that are hunted and killed illegally are the elephant and the rhino. The elephant is prized for its large ivory tusks, which are sold on the black market and used to make luxury items that are seen as a sign of wealth and prosperity in certain areas of the world. The rhino is hunted for its horn, which is commonly used in traditional medicines throughout Asia. The horn is said to be useful in treating fevers, rheumatism, gout and other ailments. Many believe that it can assist with male virility too, although there has been no scientific evidence to support the rhino horn having any medicinal properties at all.
Sadly, illegal wildlife trafficking has pushed rhinos and elephants to the brink of extinction in certain parts of Africa. If the U.S. can play a role in helping to end the practice of slaughtering these animals, it would certainly be a worthy cause to take on.
Two poachers illegally hunting inside Zimbabwe’s Charara National Park had the tables unexpectedly turned on them recently. The two men slipped into the reserve unnoticed where they had hoped to kill an elephant and harvest its ivory tusks for sale on the black market in Asia. But their excursion ended up going horribly wrong leaving one of the men in the hands of the authorities and the other poacher trampled to death by the very creature he was hunting.
Solomon Manjoro, along with his partner Noluck Tafuruka, allegedly entered the park a few weeks back in hopes that they could bag an elephant, grab its tusks and get out before anyone knew they were there. Apparently Manjoro manged to wound one of the big pachyderms but failed to deliver a killing shot. The enraged animal then charged the men, knocking Manjoro to the ground and trampling him to death. His body was discovered some time later.
Tafuruka managed to escape the wrath of the animal and ran off into the park. He was later detained by authorities who discovered him wandering the premises with an illegal firearm. His capture led to the arrest of a third man living in the capital city of Harare, although what his role in this story is remains a mystery.
Considering the number of elephants that are being slaughtered on a daily basis in Africa, the story of one poacher getting killed by the animal he is hunting hardly seems like justice. Still, I couldn’t muster a single ounce of sympathy for the guy. I’m just sad that his friend “Noluck” managed to get away relatively unscathed.
The Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute counted 109,000 elephants in 2009. In 2012, the number had sunk below 70,000. This is due to a surge in poaching. Elephant ivory commands high prices on the international black market. If current trends continue, the elephants could be entirely wiped out within seven years.
The decline in elephants is a step backwards. In the 1980s, during a period of heavy poaching and lax enforcement, the population dipped as low as 55,000. Thanks to better legal enforcement and protection, elephants made a major recovery. Now all that hard work may be ruined.
An official from the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique made a sobering announcement this week when it was revealed that rhinos are now extinct inside the park. António Abacar, the park’s director, indicated that no rhinos have been spotted in Limpopo since January, which leads him to believe that poachers have killed the few animals that had remained. With rhinos now gone, he believes those same poachers have now turned their attention on the park’s elephant population, which is endangered as well.
Rhinos are hunted throughout Africa for their horns, which are then sold on the black market in certain Asian countries. The horns are highly valued for their use in traditional medicines throughout Asia, despite the fact that there is absolutely no evidence that indicates they hold any kind of medicinal properties whatsoever. The mistaken belief that a rhino horn is capable of curing any number ailments has pushed the species to the brink of extinction across the entire continent.
The Limpopo National Park is part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, which includes Kruger National Park in South Africa and Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe. This large sanctuary was created in 2001, with the three countries agreeing to remove numerous fences between their lands so that the animals could continue to migrate freely across the region. At the time, more than 1000 elephants and 300 rhinos were relocated into Limpopo National Park to help bolster their populations there. At the start of this year, only about 15 of those rhinos were believed to still be living inside the park. Now it seems that those are gone as well.The poaching throughout the region has gotten so bad that South Africa has threatened to restore its fences along the border with Mozambique. According to the article linked to above, over the past five years South African law enforcement has killed 279 Mozambicans who were caught in the act of poaching, while arresting another 300. That would seem to indicate that much of South Africa’s poaching problems isn’t homegrown but instead comes from its neighbor.
It is incredibly sad to me to think that we on the edge of wiping out an entire species because some people erroneously believe that its horn can be used in medicines. The rhino is being pushed to the brink and it may soon be gone altogether.