Shootouts kill five rhino poachers in South Africa

rhino, rhinoceros, South Africa, south africa
Five rhino poachers were killed in two shootouts with South African police this week, the BBC reports. Three were killed in Kruger National Park, one of the most popular game reserves for safaris in South Africa. Two others were killed near the border with Mozambique. Poachers often cross borders in an attempt to evade the law.

Two rhino horns were found among the poachers’ belongings.

Poaching is a serious problem in Africa, with South African rhinos, especially white rhinos, a favored target. Last year 333 rhinos were killed in South Africa. Police have been clamping down on poachers but their activities continue and the heavily armed criminals often get into gunfights with police and park wardens. African nations are having mixed results fighting poachers. Some countries have managed to reduce illegal hunting, but other nations are still struggling with the problem.

[This beautiful shot of two white rhinos is courtesy JasonBechtel via Gadling’s flickr pool. It was taken in Ohio, of all places! At least these beautiful animals are safe there.]

Africa has mixed results in fighting poachers

Africa, rhino, NamibiaOne of the main reasons adventure travelers head to Africa is for the wildlife. Sadly, that wildlife is in danger of disappearing thanks to illegal poaching. Big game such as rhinos and elephants can bring in large sums of money for their tusks, hide, and meat.

Namibia has been one country that has been successful in the fight against poaching in the face of a continent-wide rise in illegal hunting. Neighboring South Africa lost 150 rhinos to illegal poaching. On the other hand, Zimbabwe has seen a drop in incidents, despite reports that safari operators and hunters are supplying poachers with weapons. The poachers are local hunters with local knowledge of the terrain and animals, who then sell the animals to big game hunters and safari operators who have foreign connections.

Namibia has been clamping down on poachers by increasing staff and national parks and setting up communication systems to rapidly report any incidents. So far it’s worked, with no rise in deaths among the country’s elephant and rhino population.

[Photo courtesy user Ikiwaner via Wikimedia Commons]

Favorite lion shot in Namibia


A black-maned lion nicknamed “Old Boy” has been shot in Etosha National Park, Namibia. This is the second lion to be killed in the park in the past five months. Both lions were collared, meaning park rangers were studying and protecting them.

“Old Boy” had been a favorite among visitors for years because he lived near Hobatere Lodge. Conservationists believe he was the most frequently seen lion in the country. The park has a no-shoot policy towards collared lions, which didn’t stop a professional hunter from killing “Old Boy.” The hunter had a permit, but officials want to know why he targeted a lion that was being studied. The hunting party claimed they didn’t see the collar until the lion was dead. They also claim the lion attacked them, something “Old Boy” had never done before, although in a separate interview the hunters didn’t mention any attack.

The incident highlights the troubles conservationists face in trying to preserve animals on a continent where big game hunting is still popular.

[Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Big game hunting means big money in South Africa

It sounds like a throwback to a colonial age of pith helmets and native porters, but big game hunting is still popular in South Africa. In fact, it’s on the rise.

A recent study by a South African professor says that some 200,000 South Africans engage in the sport, plus an unknown number of tourists. This translates to millions of dollars in revenue every year and thousands of jobs. There are also knock-on bonuses such as increased hotel and retail revenue.

The study urges the Department of Tourism to “promote the industry aggressively” as a means for rural development.

The most popular animal to hunt is springbok, pictured here, followed by impala, blesbok, kudu and warthog. Much of the hunting is actually for meat, but trophy hunting is also in demand. Classic big game such as leopard and elephant, so popular with the pith helmet crowd, are now illegal to hunt. Some of these animals are endangered and all have much smaller populations than in the past, thanks to human encroachment into their lands and, you guessed it, too much hunting. South Africa now has rules in place to hopefully stop this from happening with animals such as the impala and springbok.

Photo courtesy Bourlingueurs.com.

Visiting the Mangum Rattlesnake Derby

Each week, Gadling is taking a look at our favorite festivals around the world. From music festivals to cultural showcases to the just plain bizarre, we hope to inspire you to do some festival exploring of your own. Come back each Wednesday for our picks or find them all HERE.

Each Spring, avid rattlesnake hunters and handlers gather in Mangum, Oklahoma for the annual Mangum Rattlesnake Derby. The event began in 1966 when the Shortgrass Rattlesnake Association organized the first weekend-long derby to hunt, measure and cook the reptiles. Each year, a crowd of approximately 30,000 hunters and spectators gathers to take part.

The Mangum Rattlesnake Derby, held near the end of April, includes a wide range of snake-related activities, music, contests and food. Visitors come to watch snake handlers, eat at the “Bite-A-Snake Cafe” or enter the snake pit and try to find the longest “rattler” and win the derby. There’s also carnival rides, one of the largest flea markets in the state, live music by regional musicians and a royalty contest.

Want to know more about this crazy snake shindig in Southern Oklahoma? Keep reading below.

The highlight of each year’s Derby is the Longest Snake Contest. Rattlesnake hunters explore the southwestern Oklahoma hills and countryside seeking the longest and heaviest snakes to win cash awards and trophies. Hunters must register for the guided hunts and attend a safety course. Measuring and weighing of the live snakes often requires four men to hold the dangerous reptiles during the process. Snakes at this Oklahoma event routinely measure in excess of six feet long.

Young women who attend high school in Greer County also compete for the coveted title of “Miss Derby Princess” winning not only gifts and cash awards, but also a college scholarship. The winner must be brave enough to pose for a photo with the winner of the “Longest Snake” contest

Meanwhile at the Snake Pit, two handlers stand inside a ring with over a hundred rattlesnakes slithering around their feet. While one handler entertains the crowd by actively working with the Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes, the other educates the crowds about the art of “charming” snakes and facts about the elusive and deadly creatures.

Another highlight of the weekend is the “Butcher Shop Show” where spectators not only watch a snake being prepared for the fryer, but also learn about the delicacy of serpentine meat. The show may be a bit too gory for children and those who flinch at the sight of blood, but it is as entertaining as it is educational. Even in death, a rattlesnake is still deadly and must be handled with extreme caution. After skinning the rattlesnake and removing the head, the butcher demonstrates how the deadly jaws have one final bite left by using a hat or scarf from an audience member.

While some spectators believe that snake tastes a lot like chicken, patrons at the “Bite-A-Snake Cafe” can cast their own vote as to the flavor of serpentine cuisine. Volunteers from the Mangum Mounties Association batter slices of rattlesnake from the butcher shop and fry the meat for anxiously awaiting customers.

Some have decried the butchering practices as inhumane towards the snakes. The Derby Association addresses these questions on its website, indicating that the snakes are “dispatched according to acceptable commercial practices” and that by holding the festival, they hope to “correct modern misconceptions about the rattlesnake.”

Whether you’re watching rattlesnakes get measured, learning about them at the snake pit, or eating one after its been deep fried, visitors to the Mangum Rattlesnake Derby are sure to come away with a unique understanding of these amazing creatures.