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.
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.
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.
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.
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.