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.
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.
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.
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.
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.