Poachers claiming South African rhinos at record pace

According to a new report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), poachers in South Africa have been killing rhinos at an alarming rate this year. The WWF says that 193 rhinos have already been claimed by poachers in 2011, which is far ahead of 2010, when 333 rhinos were killed during the entire year.

South Africa has the highest population of rhinos in the world, with more than 19,400 white rhinos and another 1600+ black rhinos calling the country home. Of those, 12,000 white rhinos live inside Kruger National Park, which shares a 186-mile border with Mozambique. Many poachers sneak across the border from that country, often stalking their prey with high powered rifles and helicopters, and then slip back before authorities even know they’ve been there.

Most poachers are looking to harvest the horns of rhinos, which are made up of keratin, the same material that is in our hair or fingernails. Many cultures believe that the horn has special healing properties, and it is often used in traditional medicines throughout the world. In recent years, there has been a spike in demand for rhino horns in Asia, despite the fact that it is illegal to kill the creatures. As a result, the price for a horn has gone up and poachers have been more active.
South Africa takes the threat of poaching very seriously, and this year alone there have been 123 arrests for the crime. They have also instituted harsher penalties for those who are convicted as well, including higher fines and longer jail terms. So far those measures don’t seem to be much of a deterrent. There have even been a number of poachers killed in shootouts with park rangers this year as well, and yet they still continue to kill the animals and harvest their much coveted horns.

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to visit Kruger National Park, where I not only ran into a group of anti-poaching park rangers, I had the chance to chat with locals about the issue. They were all greatly concerned about the brutal attacks on the wildlife there, and expressed their outrage that foreigners were crossing the border to kill the rhinos. They also were unsure exactly what could be done to prevent it from happening, as it seems impossible to be able to patrol the border on a constant basis. Now, just a few months later, the rhinos of Kruger are being killed off at the rate of more than one per day.

Shootouts kill five rhino poachers in 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

One 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]

Poachers kill last female white rhino in South African reserve

Poaching has long been a problem in Africa, even as the countries there have taken steps to preserve their natural resources and protect endangered species. Despite their best efforts however, the illegal slaughter of animals seems to be on the rise, particularly in South Africa, where poachers recently killed off the last female white rhino in a popular game preserve in order to claim the animal’s much coveted horn.

The incident took place last week in the Krugersdorp game reserve, located not far from Johannesburg. The park attracts around 200,000 visitors annually, with many coming with the hopes of catching a glimpse of the exotic wildlife that roams there, including the elusive white rhino. A nearby private airport shuttles in visitors who don’t want to make the drive, and investigators believe that airport may have been used by the poachers as well.

Commonly, these illegal hunters use a helicopter to stalk their prey from the sky, then use a tranquillizer to knock them out. While they are unconscious, they’ll land, saw off the rhino horn, and be gone in a matter of minutes. Because of the size of the parks, the rangers usually don’t even know that they’ve come and gone, and the animal often ends up bleeding to death or dying of an overdose of the tranquillizer.

The demand for rhino horn has been on the rise in Asia as the economy there has continued to expand. Many traditional medicines in that part of the world use keratin fibers as one of their main ingredients, and rhino horns are made up almost entirely of the fine, compressed hair-like substance. In 2009, 129 rhinos were killed for their horns in South Africa alone. This year, that number is already at 136. Prior to 2005, the average number of rhinos killed was just 36. Meanwhile, the number of black and white rhinos living in Africa has fallen to an estimated 18,000 animals.

South Africa has begun to crack down harder on these crimes, with stiffer sentences for those who are caught. For instance, a Vietnamese poacher was recently put behind bars for 10 years for trying to smuggle horns out of the country, and there are plenty more cases to be heard in the near future. Hopefully these efforts will help stem the tide of these brutal attacks, but many fear that while demand remains high, there will always be those willing to risk the consequences.

[Photo credit: Princess.Tilly via WikiMedia Commons]

Seven Endangered Species You Can Still See in the Wild

There is no doubt that we are fascinated with wildlife. We love to watch diverse and interesting animals, preferably in their natural habitats, and we’re often willing to travel to remote places, sometimes at great expense, to see them. If you enjoy the kind of travel that allows for these kinds of animal encounters, they you’ll want to check out BootsnAll’s list of the Seven Endangered Species You Can Find Outside a Zoo.

The article not only lists the creatures, it also gives us the best locations to go and see them for ourselves, including some brief insights into what to expect out of the journey. For instance, if you want to see polar bears in the wild, you can expect a long flight, or 40-hour train ride, to Churchill, Canada, on the famed Hudson Bay, where every October and November, the bears gather, waiting for the bay to freeze so they can continue on northward. The other creatures, and locations that can be found, include: sea turtles in Barbados, tigers in India, rhinos in Tanzania, elephants in South Africa, pandas in China, and gray whales in Mexico.

As the article points out, in the era of ecotourism, these trips to see these rare animals can be a force for good. Conservation efforts can receive funding from our visits and an increased awareness about the plight of the animals helps to prevent poaching and protect natural habitats as well. Just be sure to travel with a reputable guide service and make sure you pack out everything you pack in.

So did they leave anything off the list? I was a bit surprised to not see the mountain gorillas that we wrote about last week, on there. They’d certainly make my top list. What’s on yours?