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.
Earlier this week, two people entered a museum in Paris, used some kind of gas to neutralize the guards, and made off with a rhino horn from one of the stuffed animals on display. This was the fourth such robbery in Europe this year, as thieves look to sell the valuable horns on the black market in Asia.
The incident took place on Tuesday at the Museum of Hunting and Nature in the Marais district of Paris. Around noon, the two individuals entered the building used what is described as “paralyzing” gas on the guards, and then proceed to remove the rhino horn from the display. When they had claimed their prize, they disappeared into the streets, and at this time, there are no leads in the case.
Rhino horns continue to be a hot commodity in Asia, where they are used in traditional medicines. Because of the demand there, a single horn can fetch as much as $100,000 on the open market, which has contributed to the rise in thefts from European museums this year. Worse yet however, is the continued poaching of the animals throughout Africa, resulting in the black rhino recently being declared extinct in West Africa.
I’m guessing these thieves don’t care about the source of their rhino horn and that stealing them from museums is just out of convenience. If they lived in Africa, they would probably be brutally slaying the animals there as well.
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.