By Kraig Becker
Anti-poaching rangers on patrol in South Africa's Kruger National Park shot and killed three men who were believed to be rhino poachers this past Wednesday. Officials indicated that the rangers were on a routine operation within the park when they came across the men who had reportedly crossed the border from Mozambique. A firefight ensued and the three poachers were fatally wounded.
This incident is only the latest clash between soldiers and poachers in South Africa. As illegal poaching has continued to increase across the country, these types of encounters have become more frequent. Rhino horns remain in high demand for use in traditional medicines throughout Asia and people are increasingly more willing to risk their lives to obtain the valuable commodity.
According to a government report released last week, 188 rhinos have already been killed in South Africa since the start of the year and 135 of those were poached in Kruger alone. The country is home to more than 18,000 white rhinos, which is nearly the entire population that remains in Africa. About 5000 of the more rare black rhino also live in South Africa.
As the value of rhino horns has increased, the level of sophistication shown by poachers has risen as well. Many now employ helicopters to spot the animals from the air and then use high-powered tranquilizer guns to knock them unconscious. With the creature safely asleep, they then land, use a machete or other blade to cut off the horn and are back in the air in a matter of minutes. The speed with which they strike makes it difficult to catch them in the act, which has frustrated South African officials.
With rhino population numbers already dangerously low across Africa, the continued poaching of these animals has become a real concern. If this trend doesn't change soon, there is a real chance that the creatures could be gone from the continent before the end of the century.