A gang of masked men broke into the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin on Wednesday night and made off with four rhino heads.
Museum officials said in a press release that the thieves overpowered a security guard and tied him up. They then entered a storeroom and removed the heads. The heads had previously been on display but had been put into storage a year ago for fear of their being stolen.
The security guard was eventually able to free himself and notify police. So far no arrests have been made.
Rhino horns are especially prized in Asia where they are used in traditional medicines. Police estimate the street value of the horns to be about $650,000. Normally rhinos are poached in the wild and their horns are smuggled to their destination. This photo, courtesy the UK Home Office, shows two rhino horns found wrapped in cling film, concealed in a false sculpture. These were from a different crime. The rhino horns from the Dublin museum have not been found.
This raid may herald a new phase in rhino poaching. With poachers facing increased policing, and even firefights, at national parks and rhinos becoming hard to find thanks to their being hunted to the edge of extinction, some may turn to taking horns from natural history collections.
[Photo courtesy the UK Home Office]
Most people visit Nepal for the opportunity to go climbing and trekking in the High Himalaya, but the country isn’t comprised solely of snow-capped peaks. In fact, Nepal actually has a region of subtropical lowlands that feel like they are a world away from the mountains that have made the country so famous. One of the main attractions for travelers in these lowlands is the Chitwan National Park, a 360-square-mile preserve that is home to a diverse population of animals that includes tigers, leopards, crocodiles and the rare one-horned rhino, a species that looked to be headed toward extinction, but is now on the rebound.
Chitwan was first designated a national park back in 1973 and was named a World Heritage Site 11 years later. In those days, the park was well patrolled by Nepal’s army, which ensured that the preserve, and its wildlife, remained protected. That all changed in the late 1990s when the country became embroiled in a civil war, causing the government to divert troops and funds toward battling Maoist insurgents. The result was a severe drop in the number of military monitoring posts in the region and a surge in illegal poaching soon followed.
According to this story from the BBC, there were an estimated 612 rhinos living in Chitwan at the turn of the century. Just five years later that number had dropped to a mere 375, putting the animal within striking distance of extinction in Nepal. The rhino’s outlook for survival would have been quite grim if the government and the insurgents hadn’t signed peace accords in 2006. Since then a relative calm has returned to the country and important resources have been freed up to help protect the national park once again.
With the civil war now behind it, Nepal has turned its efforts toward once again protecting the one-horned rhino, and other species, from poachers. Through the use of redeployed troops, better intelligence and a more communal approach toward protecting the park, the country seems to have turned the tide against those who illegally hunt and kill the animals. The latest census numbers, taken in 2011, indicate that the rhino population is on the rebound and it is believed that there are now more than 500 of the creatures roaming inside Chitwan National Park.
The one-horned rhino remains one of the most endangered animals on the planet and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. But considering how regularly we hear awful stories about how a species is in rapid decline, often at the hands of poachers, it is good to hear about a success story for a change.
[Photo Credit: Government of Nepal]
Anti-poaching rangers on patrol in South Africa’s Kruger National Park shot and killed three men who were believed to be rhino poachers this past Wednesday. Officials indicated that the rangers were on a routine operation within the park when they came across the men who had reportedly crossed the border from Mozambique. A firefight ensued and the three poachers were fatally wounded.
This incident is only the latest clash between soldiers and poachers in South Africa. As illegal poaching has continued to increase across the country, these types of encounters have become more frequent. Rhino horns remain in high demand for use in traditional medicines throughout Asia and people are increasingly more willing to risk their lives to obtain the valuable commodity.
According to a government report released last week, 188 rhinos have already been killed in South Africa since the start of the year and 135 of those were poached in Kruger alone. The country is home to more than 18,000 white rhinos, which is nearly the entire population that remains in Africa. About 5000 of the more rare black rhino also live in South Africa.
As the value of rhino horns has increased, the level of sophistication shown by poachers has risen as well. Many now employ helicopters to spot the animals from the air and then use high-powered tranquilizer guns to knock them unconscious. With the creature safely asleep, they then land, use a machete or other blade to cut off the horn and are back in the air in a matter of minutes. The speed with which they strike makes it difficult to catch them in the act, which has frustrated South African officials.
With rhino population numbers already dangerously low across Africa, the continued poaching of these animals has become a real concern. If this trend doesn’t change soon, there is a real chance that the creatures could be gone from the continent before the end of the century.
The South African government has released statistics on the number of rhinos poached in that country last year, and the news isn’t especially good. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), a record number of 668 rhinos were killed in South Africa in 2012, representing a 50% increase over 2011 when 448 of the animals lost their lives to poachers.
Most of the rhino poaching took place inside Kruger National Park, one of South Africa’s most popular destinations for visitors. The 7500-square-mile Kruger is one of the top safari destinations in the world and one of the best places to spot wild rhinos. But its remote and rugged location also makes it difficult to police and combat poaching. As a result, of the 668 rhinos killed last year, 425 were claimed inside the park.
Rhino poaching has been on the rise in recent years because of the increasing demand for their horns in parts of Asia. The horns are ground up into powder and used in traditional medicines in places like Vietnam and China, despite the fact that there is no scientific evidence to support such uses. As the WWF report notes, rhino horns are used in such dubious remedies as hangover cures.
When poachers claim their prized rhino horns they typically shoot the animals with tranquilizers, knocking them unconscious for a time. While the creature slumbers, they then proceed to hack off their horns using sharp axes or knives to brutally accomplish their task. The rhino then bleeds to death from these wounds and their corpses are generally found by park rangers hours or days after they have been attacked.
These ever-increasing poaching numbers have put the rhino in jeopardy across Africa. Several species are critically endangered there as a result of these crimes.
[Photo Credit: Kraig Becker]
Zimbabwe has seen an increase in rhino poaching this year, the government newspaper The Herald reports.
At least 23 of the 700 or so black and white rhinos in the country were poached this year, but authorities managed to arrest 37 poachers and horn dealers. Rhino horns are popular for folk medicine, especially in Asia where they fetch high prices. One tactic of the poachers is to poison water holes, which kills not just the rhinos but any animal that drinks there.
More than $4 million is being spent to protect the animals, the government says, including implanting radio transmitters into the horns of 100 rhinos this year.
Zimbabwe isn’t the only country facing this problem. The Huffington Post reports that South Africa is doing more to train park workers on how to investigate incidents of poaching. Several poachers were killed in shootouts with authorities earlier this year, but that didn’t stop 341 South African rhinos from being poached in the first 10 months of the year, more than in all of 2010.
Photo of rhino in Matopos National Park, Zimbabwe, courtesy Susan Adams.