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.
Earlier this week South African Minister of Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk told a diverse crowd that gathered at AMARIDIAN, a prestigious New York gallery, that his country is on pace to break previous records for international arrivals. The Minister said that there has been a 19.2% increase in tourism overall since the start of the year, putting arrival numbers well ahead of the record set back in 2010.
In the U.S., to help promote South Africa’s evolving art and music scene, van Schalkwyk couldn’t help but be pleased with the current state of tourism in his nation. These impressive numbers will help the country reach some very important milestones in the years ahead. South Africa has set a goal for itself of attracting 15 million visitors by 2020 while also increasing revenues to $75 billion per year and creating 225,000 new jobs.
Having visited South Africa myself, it is easy to understand why it is such a popular destination. The country truly has something to offer travelers of all types. Cape Town and Johannesburg are two very modern cities with thriving nightlife, amazing culinary options and luxurious accommodations. The country’s outstanding wine region is a quiet escape from the hustle and bustle of metropolitan life, while the year-round beaches are amongst the best in the world.
Of course, for the truly adventurous traveler, South Africa has plenty to offer as well. Kruger National Park is a legendary safari destination and hiking trails abound throughout the Western Cape. Adrenaline junkies can enjoy everything from bungee jumping and mountain biking to whitewater rafting and shark diving, with just about everything in between.
Knowing my love for Africa, I’m regularly asked by friends where I would recommend they travel on their first visit to the continent. It is difficult not to recommend South Africa simply because it has such diverse experiences to offer visitors. As a one-stop destination, SA is a country that really does have it all.
A man suspected of being a poacher was killed inside Kruger National Park in South Africa last week after coming face-to-face with an angry Cape buffalo. The unnamed 35-year-old, along with two companions, entered the famous park after dark where they managed to stumble across the fearsome beast. While the other two men managed to escape without injury, their friend was trampled to death.
Weighing in excess of 1500 pounds, and standing over a meter in height at the shoulder, the Cape buffalo is well known for its foul disposition. That combination of size and temperament can make them extremely dangerous when startled or threatened, and more than 200 human deaths are attributed to the species each year. That number makes them one of the most dangerous creatures in all of Africa, where they are considered to be amongst the “Big 5” of safari animals.
What exactly the three men were doing inside the national park after dark is unclear, although officials believe they were there to poach animals of some kind. Poaching has become a major problem for South Africa, where rhinos are being killed at a record pace in order to harvest their horns. Prized for their use in traditional medicines in Asia, those horns are then sold on the black market for as much as $100,000.
After a swollen river burst its banks and washed-out a bridge. “There wasn’t any other way to get out of the park,” Canadian Linda Freeman, airlifted out of the area told Reuters.
Flooding in southeast Africa this week has killed at least five people, forced thousands to evacuate homes and led to an airlift of about 20 foreign tourists in the southern provinces of Maputo, Gaza and Inhambane, weather officials said.
All organized game drives have been suspended as more than 1,500 people have been forced to flee their homes with local weather stations reporting a 267mm rainfall (10.5 inches) in one 24 hour period earlier this week, over five times the classification for heavy rain.
Gadling’s Kraig Becker was on safari in Kruger National Park not long ago and tells us:
“In all, I spent six days in Kruger, and was given the chance to explore it both on foot and by vehicle. In those days, I found that it lived up to its billing as one of the top safari destinations in all of Africa. Not only is the wildlife all that you would expect, and more, but the landscapes are breathtaking as well. In my travels within the park boundaries, I saw beautiful rivers, emerald forests, and stunning canyons. The gorgeous scenery was an element I wasn’t expecting, and it helped to further separate Kruger from the Serengeti.” Read more here.
In an attempt to thwart the efforts of illegal rhino poachers in South Africa, wildlife officials at Kruger National Park have announced that they will no longer employ the use of signs that indicated where the animals can be found. Previously, safari guides and camp leaders used maps and colored pins to mark the location of recently spotted animals so that tourists could get the opportunity to see the endangered creatures in the wild. Officials now believe that those same signs were being used by poachers to track the animals as well.
South Africa has done its best to crack down on the poachers by imposing stiffer jail sentences and sending more anti-poaching units into the field. Despite those efforts however, the problem continues to get worse. As of last week, 405 rhinos had been killed in the country this year alone, up from 333 last year. Of those, 229 were killed in Kruger, which is amongst the top safari destinations in all of Africa.
Without the signs to guide the way, tourists will just have to keep their eyes peeled in order to spot a rhino, which can be rather elusive in their natural habitat. Still, I don’t think anyone will argue against doing away with the signs if it means we can make the poacher’s job just a little bit more challenging.