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The Rhino Wars. Fall of the Black Rhino

If Africa had an icon, it would  be the  Rhino.
The sturdy animal that roams the landscape has its roots in an age that began thousands of years in the past. In fact, it is said that ancestors of the black and the white rhinoceros were present in Africa by the end of the Late Miocene period, more than ten million years ago. For an animal that has withstood the test of time, lived through global warming and cooling, earthquakes and literally every disaster known to end its existence to poachers is nothing short of heart wrenching but that seems to be where we’re going.

Today, the Black Rhino is a sparse population of animals distributed thinly over a range that is ever-decreasing in size. This causes two fold problems.

The black rhino is far more difficult to count–and it is far more difficult to protect. Both black rhino and white rhino are being decimated by poachers at a rate that increases–nearly doubles each year. How much damage is being done?

In 2013 the population of the Black Rhino was estimated to be only about 5000 animals.280172_9826

During the 80s, the animal fell to lower than two thousand animals. The Black Rhino population is critically endangered and it is largely due to the ravages of mankind that it is so.

The Black Rhino

The Black Rhinoceros stands about 55 to 70 inches tall at the shoulder. It is about 12 feet long and may weigh in at as much as 3000 pounds or 1400 kg.  Some giant males have been reported to weigh more than 6000 pounds. As with most animals, the females are smaller than the males.  The Black Rhino has very poor eyesight. They depend on sound and smell to help the to decipher food and enemies.

Of predators, the Black Rhino has very few that can do them a great deal of harm, with one notable exception, and that predator is no great surprise.

The best place in the world for you to visit a Black Rhino today is the Hhuhluwe-iMfolozi National Park in KwaZulu Natal, in South Africa.  Secondary to this, Kruger Park, but if you’re going to go, you may want to go soon. The Black Rhino are dying and the odds are good that if something isn’t done soon, you’re not going to be able to see them for too much longer.

The park holds a reasonable breeding population of both the Black and the White Rhino and even here they are unsafe from the biggest scourge–mankind.

Rhino Poaching in South Africa

Home of the largest population of Black Rhinos, South African park rangers and interested parties work tirelessly to see the rhino begin to rise in population but they are faced with a daunting enemy. In many cases outgunned and outmanned by poachers using high tech night vision and helicopters, the rhino continue to fall.

Poaching of many animals is simply a fact of life. Rangers face it every day and in many cases, rangers and others are killed protecting their parks and animals. A National Geographic article details the extent to which rangers are hunted nearly as prolifically as the animals, with some killed for revenge on stopping the poaching.  According to the article, linked above “In April 2014, Virunga’s head warden, Emmanuel de Merode, survived after being shot in a roadside ambush in what may have been an assassination attempt. He’d made many enemies as a result of his efforts to curb poaching in the park and to enforce a ban on charcoal production and stop oil exploration there.”

 

The poaching epidemic seems to be unstoppable. The table below shows you how poaching has reached epidemic proportions, rising dramatically each and every year and really hitting home earlier in 2014.

rhino poaching table

South Africa is now marking its worst year ever for poaching. In the past few years alone thousands of rhinos were taken by poachers. Tagging efforts are helping but they are not solving the problem. Alertness and targeting the poachers even as they target the rhinos is also going to help.

Drones are being implemented and used to help to patrol the area and to ensure the safety of the rhinos. That may be helpful on some level but the rising tide of poaching simply seems to be unstoppable. Still people are doing what they can to help and that includes some help from a very unlikely couple of quarters.

One example of this is the group of Navy Seals who came in to help the South African rangers to target and to capture the poachers as they were hunting down the rhinos.

The son of Warren Buffett from Omaha Nebraska has also entered the battle for the rhinos, donating 23 million dollars in an effort to help the rangers to gain the kind of technology that will allow them to do battle with the poachers on level ground. Improve technology, weather balloons, ground sensors and many other things are in store for the rangers to help them to combat poaching but it may still not be enough to save the animals if more is not done.

This video surfaced earlier this year of a rhino caught stumbling though the brush, it’s horn gone and a bullet lodged in its brain. Rangers tracked the animal down but had no option but to put it down.

Caution: Video is Disturbing in Nature and May Offend.

Why Poachers Take Black Rhinos

Earlier this year a rhino hunter absolutely stunned the world by bidding at a safari club for the “privilege” of taking a rhino. He paid more than 350 thousand American dollars for the right to do so. His deal went viral and it resulted in death threats against the hunter. Corey Knowlton a U.S. hunter paid $350,000 at the Dallas Safari Club’s auction for a permit to hunt a black rhino in Namibia. He stepped into a debate and a whirlwind of criticism that he had never planned on.

While he stated his money would go toward conservation, the death threats against him grew to the point where he had to get extra security to protect his life. This is just one man, legally trying to take a rhino for the prestige of hunting it. Imagine if the price went up dramatically and if the rhino was actually worth something to him, as is the case for the poachers.

In most cases the deals like this are not legal and they are not caught in time. The methods and the means that are used by the poachers are not caught in time to save the animals and they fall by the hundreds, though many poachers are caught after the fact.

Rhino horns are 99% of the reason why poachers take the rhinos and they are lucrative enough to pay a poacher and a syndicated crime group very handsomely.A kilogram can bring in as much as $20,000,(10K per pound for the US based reader) and a single horn weighs around 10kg,or approximately 30 pounds, making it a very lucrative proposition if you consider that a single horn could bring you in 100,000 dollars.

 

According to those who are trying to catch and punish the poachers and save the Rhino, the people who are opposing them may even include former army and police officers.

According to Moses Montesh, a professor in criminology at the University of South Africa, it appears that many of the people who could and should be helping are in opposition “In some instances evidence suggests that private game operators are involved in rhino poaching. These guys are very familiar with all military and poaching techniques.”

More than a thousand of the critically endangered animals were not saved last year, falling to poachers who can make more money from a single horn than they could from a pound of gold or platinum on the open market. With money like that up for grabs, is it any wonder that poaching continues?

The largest market today is the Asian market, with China and Vietnam being the most common places where rhino horn is sold. It is thought to be a cure for everything from impotence to cancer, although there is no medical reason to believe that it is so. As the demand in those countries increases, so does the rhino poaching increase.817050_61313463

Although it’s hard to imagine, many brave men and women are losing their lives trying to save the rhino from extinction, yet the countries who are buying the horn refuse to crack down on the poaching that is costing human and animal lives and may in a very short time cost us an entire species.

 

How Serious is Rhino Poaching in South Africa’s Parks?

In fact the rhino wars in South Africa are not just serious they are absolutely deadly. The year started off to an incredibly bloody start in the first six months of the year in 2014. More than 11 poachers were killed in gun battles with park rangers who were trying to protect the animals in just January alone.

The Officer Commanding the Kruger Rangers Corp, Major-General (Ret) Johan Jooste, stated emphatically that there were “multiple incursions of up to 15 heavily armed (poaching) groups in Kruger at any given time”, especially during the full moon period when poachers were able to stalk rhinos at night in the hope of evading detection from the air and ground by anti-poaching patrols.

“They operate in groups of four to six. They are aggressive and engage and shoot at the rangers on sight, creating a daily, life-threatening situation,” he reported.

Many of these gun battles take place late at night when poachers cross into South Africa from Mozambique and attempt to take the Black Rhino under cover of darkness. More than forty rhinos were taken in Kruger Park in the month of January of 2014, further decimating their numbers by a short sighted population driven by greed.

The toll is close to the same for Park Rangers who are trying to protect the Black Rhino as well as the White Rhino from the ravages of poachers who are well armed and driven by base greed with no vision of what they are taking from the world. Many rangers are killed each year and often other people are killed, collateral damage to the poaching involved in the Rhino wars.

SANParks said in their own statement that it was “appealing to the South African public to support efforts by rangers to stop the massacre of our natural heritage by greedy poachers, who are promised wealth by syndicates”.

The Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network TRAFFIC stated:

“South Africa and Mozambique must decisively up their game if they hope to stop this blatant robbery of southern Africa’s natural heritage,” says Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC’s rhino expert. “This year “must mark the turning point where the world, collectively, says ‘enough is enough’ and brings these criminal networks down. Rhino horn trafficking and consumption are not simply environmental issues, they represent threats to the fabric of society”.

Sabi Sand — South Africa’s oldest private game reserve — is now spending half of its annual maintenance budget on security to protect the endangered rhino. They state now that the ability to protect the rhino is escaping them and that in the near future it may be something they are not able to afford to do.

Sabi Sand conservationist Andrew Parker, in an interview with CNN stated that defense costs could become “unaffordable.”

“There’s no question we’re fighting a counter insurgency war here,” he said. “As much as we increase the risk, all it will do is it will drive up the price of the horns, it will raise the stakes, the poachers will become more organized and better prepared to fight.”

Experts say the rhino horn is becoming more lucrative than drugs.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A kilogram fetches about $20,000 — with a single horn weighing about 10 kilograms (22 pounds).

The poachers however are not the only –or perhaps even the biggest problem.

Were it not for the people who actively buy the Rhino horns, the demand would not have to be supplied. The key then in some instances is to shut down the market and make it unprofitable for the poachers.

The black rhino is critically endangered, and conservationists are fiercely protective and trying their best to prevent extinction of the animal. They are facing off against odds that are not good. The people who are in the battle are organized crime syndicates that are cowardly at best, using military grade helicopters and night vision equipment, even guns with silencers to do battle against the nearly extinct rhinos and the rangers who protect them. These people have taken poaching to an entirely new level and are leaving the people trying to save them fighting to stay abreast of their technology and to keep up with their forays into rhino territory.

Both Kenya and South Africa are now using drones, increased security and sniffer dogs to help them to combat the poaching in the rhino wars, and believe us when we tell you this is not a conflict–it is not a skirmish–it is an out and out war.

Even with all that the conservationists can throw at them they are unable so far to halt the flow of the illegal horns and to halt the rising tide of slaughter that is facing the rhino. The rangers themselves are falling in numbers in an effort to protect them, but the poachers are assisted by business men and women who are unethical and dishonest on every level.

Here is a perfect example of that, from the pages of the United States Department of Justice.  Manhattan business man, David Hausman, an antiques dealer held himself out and offered to help to track down poachers and illegal rhino horn trafficking. In the end he double crossed the authorities, using a pair of fake horns to cover his tracks.Sadly he ended up with less than a year in prison for his subterfuge.

Proposed Solutions to the Problem of Poaching in South Africa

So great is the problem that South Africa is considering selling off their stash of confiscated Rhino horns, a move that could help in two ways. It would flood the market and probably immediately impact the price and lower the demand for rhino horn, while the proceeds of the auction could help to fund better technology and better methods to protect the rhino.

Jason Bell, who is the regional director Southern Africa of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, describes South Africa’s proposals as an “extremely naive” experiment. He says that it’s not sensible to talk about flooding the market with horns when no one knows the extent of the potential demand.It is quite likely that he’s correct. The demand may well increase any supply that they have to offer and the end result may be more killings at a faster rate when people become accustomed to having it and then the supply again cuts off.

What’s the Bad News?

Scientists say that if the poaching continues as it is now and the rhino are killed off faster than they can breed. D-Day for the species will hit sooner than 2026, a date which is not far away in the overall scheme of things.

Literally decimated by illegal killings, in as of the end of June, in 2014 alone nearly 500 rhinos have been killed and we’ve got half a year to go.  Rangers too are dying. How many more animals and how many more people will it take before we all step up and take action. This is not an African problem, this is a PEOPLE problem and it’s time we all took whatever steps that we can to eradicate it once and for all.

Keep watching the Pieces of Africa pages for updates on the Black Rhino, poaching statistics and how you can help to save one of the pieces of Africa

Resources for Saving the Rhinos and Rhino Information:

Rhinos Under Attack
South Africa marks worst year in rhino killings as demand for horn soars in Asia
11 poachers killed in rhino war
Unite Against Poaching
Fight for Rhinos
SanParks News
South Africa and Mozambique Step up the Fight Against Rhino Poachers
SanParks Honorary Rangers
Howard Buffett’s Mega Donation to Stop Rhino Poaching