By Bobby Jordan
Worried about the fate of the rhinoceros? Spare a thought for the humble cow, which is poached at the rate of nearly 200 a day.
While more than 800 rhinos are expected to be slaughtered this year, an equivalent number of cows disappear from farms in the space of just four days, according to the latest stock theft statistics.
Sheep fare even worse, disappearing from local pastures at the rate of 247 a day.
Unisa academic and Gauteng Stock Theft Prevention Forum chairman Willie Clack said: "Rhino poaching is a much more sensational story line than livestock theft, which is only understood by a minority of the population.
"Also, the general public do not understand the economic extent of livestock theft, which costs farmers about R500-million a year. In comparison the current average value of rhinos is around R200000 apiece - and if we lose 750 of these animal per year the economic value is R150-million."
Clack said Eastern Cape had the highest rate of stock theft in the country, followed by KwaZulu-Natal, Free State and Mpumalanga.
He said: "Black communal farmers are most vulnerable. Cattle raiders go to a kraal and raid it with AK-47s. It is not theft, it is armed robbery."
The Mokopane Regional Court is currently hearing a case in which four suspects are accused of using a 30-ton truck to steal 163 head of cattle to the value of R2-million. Most were stud animals.
Clack said stock theft contri-buted to higher prices in shops.
"Commercial farmers are not covered by insurance for livestock theft as very few companies provide the service and it is highly expensive."
Mpumalanga Agri manager Hennie Laas said a poor conviction rate and light court sentences were aggravating the situation.
Figures published last year in the Southern African Journal of Criminology show that nearly 70000 cattle were stolen in 2012.
About 60% of livestock cases are unreported, due in part to a lack of trust in the police.