By Linda Ensor
The government’s attempts to reduce rhino poaching in South Africa seem to be failing, if figures released on Thursday by the Department of Environmental Affairs are anything to go by.
The number of rhino poached in South Africa so far this year has climbed to 946 — already a 42% increase on the 668 recorded by the end of last year, and much higher than the 333 killed in 2010 and the 448 animals lost in 2011.
Scientists have warned that if poaching continues to increase at this rate, the species will be extinct in the wild by midcentury. South Africa is home to more than 80% of the global rhino population.
Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said recently that the increase in rhino poaching had strengthened the government’s determination to fight it. "Our rhino population is still viable and stable but it will take a concerted effort to end poaching," she said. A national rhino fund has been established.
While the government seems to be losing the battle in terms of the numbers of rhinos poached for their horns, it has had some successes in terms of the number of arrests for rhino poaching-related offences, which so far this year total 330, up from 267 last year, 232 in 2011 and 165 in 2010.
Rhino horn, prized in southeast Asia, primarily in Vietnam, as a "pick-me-up", cancer cure and even an aphrodisiac, fetches about $60,000/kg in that market.
Research conducted in Vietnam by the World Wide Fund for Nature, in collaboration with wildlife trade-tracking organisation TRAFFIC’s Greater Mekong Programme office, has shown that, despite beliefs about rhino horn’s curative qualities for diseases such as cancer, it is predominately used as a status symbol and a general panacea.
The horn is used by educated, successful, powerful people and given as gifts. It is also acquired by those who want to maintain or enhance a healthy lifestyle.
The research, conducted by a Vietnamese market research company, surveyed 720 people in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
The Department of Environmental Affairs said the Kruger National Park continued to suffer the brunt of the poaching. It has already lost 573 rhinos this year. Over the past four years the park has lost 1,396 rhinos. Since the start of the year, 127 alleged poachers have been arrested in the park, a number that has climbed consistently each year from 67 in 2010. More....