By Franz Wild
Barry Lok grimaced as he gazed at the rotting carcass of his rhino bull, Kruger, lying under a tree on his farm northwest of Johannesburg. His heart had been pierced by a poacher’s bullet and his horn, worth its weight in gold, sawn off to be sent to Asia.
Kruger’s slaying spells more than the loss of a beast Lok loved for its “prehistoric beauty.” Lok, like private rhino owners including Nicky Oppenheimer, the richest South African, must now either pay heavily for more security or sell livestock and contribute to the species’ demise.
Rhino poachers in South Africa, home to about 90 percent of the world’s population of the endangered animals, are increasingly targeting private game owners as the level of rhino killing rises toward a record. Demand is rising in China and Vietnam, where rhino horn powder is believed to cure cancer. Last year 125 rhinos were poached from private farms in South Africa, a 52 percent increase from 2010.
“If we’re going to keep them here we’re going to have to protect them,” Lok, the 54-year old founder of chip-board company William Tell Holdings Ltd. (WTL), said in an interview at his 5,000-acre farm. “Bluntly, you’d have to sell the rhinos to pay for it. That’s not sustainable.”
The farmers need rhinos to run their hunting and game viewing businesses, which can charge a premium if their properties boast the so-called big five: rhinos, elephants, buffaloes, lions and leopards. Some, like Lok, breed the animals for sale to ranchers.
By targeting rhinos, poachers are endangering conservation efforts while also threatening South Africa’s billion-dollar wildlife ranching industry. A 1970s law that gave farmers in the country ownership of wildlife on their land has led to the tripling of animal populations, according to Wildlife Ranching South Africa, a Pretoria, South Africa industry organization.
Revenue at game farms has risen by an average of 20 percent a year over the last 15 years. More than 10,000 private game farms now cover about 50.7 million acres, according to the official journal of Wildlife Ranching South Africa. That’s almost three times the land of government conservation areas.
The fear of future attacks has driven Lok to hire four guards at a cost of 40,000 rand ($5,114) a month in salaries, training and equipment.
“The rhino is worth more dead than alive,” said Pelham Jones, head of the Private Rhino Owners Association, which represents most of the country’s 400 rhino ranchers, in an interview this month. “The investor in product ‘rhino’ says, hey, this isn’t such a good idea anymore.” More....