The number of black rhinos in Africa has declined to less than 5 000 in 2014 following increased poaching activities by international ivory cartels, regional wildlife experts have said.
Speaking at a recent launch of the Highway Africa Pan-African Conference on black rhino poaching at the Amakhala Game Reserve in Grahamstown, South Africa, Reserve Protection Agency director general Scott Williams said if governments do not impose stiff sentences on poachers, the black rhino will soon be extinct.
“Well-organised and well-funded crime syndicates are continuing to feed the growing black market with rhino horn.
“Over the past few years, consumer use of rhino horn has shifted from traditional Asian medicine practices to new uses, such as to convey status. High levels of consumption – especially the escalating demand in Vietnam – threaten to soon reverse the considerable conservation gains achieved over the last two decades in preserving the black rhino,” Williams said.
With an average weight of 7 kilograms per each rhino horn, it can generate an estimated $90 000 per kilogram on the illegal market.
International mineral trade markets show that a rhino horn can sell for up to £60 000 per kg while valued minerals such as platinum and gold only fetch £33 973 and £26 865 per kilogram respectively.
The Species Survival Commission’s (SSC) African Rhino Specialist Group says between 2013 and 2014, a minimum of 2 387 black rhinos were poached in 11 of the 12 rhino range states in Africa.
The bulk of the poaching was recorded in South Africa were 1 805 rhinos were killed followed by 382 in Zimbabwe and 112 in Kenya, while Uganda has no poaching records, Zambia recorded one case, while Botswana, Malawi and Swaziland each recorded two cases each.
The SSC says if poaching continues at current levels, rhino populations could start to decline and in less than two years’ time be extinct.
Amakhala Foundation co-director Jennifer Gush said the demand for the rhino horn is fuelled by the increasing wealth of many middle-class Chinese and Vietnamese who see the horn as a status symbol and its alleged traditional medicinal benefits.
“A Vietnamese diplomat was caught buying illegal rhino horns outside the embassy in Pretoria and her punishment was simply a recall back to Hanoi, but to the rhino population, this punishment is not enough,” Gush said.
The United Nations World Tourism Organisation Commission for Africa chairperson Walter Mzembi, said governments will continue to fight poaching activities in the region to ensure the preservation of bio-diversity, flora and fauna for tourism purposes.
“African governments have agreed to apply a zero tolerance approach and sentence those convicted to maximum and deterrent penalties to combat an upsurge in poaching and smuggling of ivory.
“We will use a combination of existing laws and strengthened regulatory frameworks for investigation, arrest, seizure and prosecution of suspected wildlife criminals,” Mzembi said.