By Irma Venter
It’s an ominous sound, and a surprising one: a loud boom on a late Wednesday afternoon that ripples across the vast, quiet grassland next to the Mozambique-South Africa border fence.
The sound, like a small-explosion, is probably that of a high-calibre hunting rifle.
Statistically, one should expect it. In 2007, 37 rhinos were poached in the Kruger National Park (KNP). Last year, that figure stood at 425 – more than one animal a day.
As the rangers guiding the small walking party hurry to seek assistance, the predicament KNP staff find themselves in becomes clear.
Where exactly did the single shot come from? How far away is the group of poachers? How many are there? What weapons are they carrying?
Also, the rhino could have been shot from across the border, one ranger points out. The poachers will then cross into South Africa later that night to secure the horn they so covet. It only takes a few minutes to cut off a rhino horn and disappear into the underbrush, slipping across the border and vanishing back into Mozambique.
With the sun close to setting, the helicopter providing much-needed backup for rangers seeking out poachers will have a hard time proving useful. And already it is probably too late to save the animal’s life.
This is not to say that the KNP, or any other South African conservation area, is helpless when it comes to rhino poaching. However, incidents such as these do highlight that there are major challenges in preventing poaching that cannot be ignored.
Major efforts by the KNP, other wildlife sanctuaries, the private sector and the South African public are seeing an increase in the employment of technology to stop poaching and to secure jail sentences for the perpetrators – not mere fines. More....