The rhinoceros walking down the road at South Africa's largest game reserve had no horns, one of the few to survive a surge in poaching that has sent killings to a 15-year high. A startled tourist alerted game rangers to the animal, the first time a poached rhino had been found still alive at Kruger National Park.
"That was really the first case that I know of where we found a rhino which the horn was removed and it was struggling on the road," said William Mabasa, a park spokesman. His theory is that poachers used a tranquilliser to let them remove the rhino's horns silently. Although the animal survived the amputation, veterinarians were unable to save its life. "They eventually had to destroy it because the wound was rather too big," Mr Mabasa said.
Two rhinos at a nature reserve near Pretoria suffered a similar fate this month after poachers overdosed them with tranquillisers. Their fate is emblematic of an insidious turn in the poaching trade, a top agenda item at the general assembly of the 175-nation wildlife treaty Cites (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) under way in Doha. Black-market demand for rhino horn has soared in the past several years, largely because of the economic boom in east and South East Asia, where the horn is used for medicinal purposes.
That surge in demand has combined with endemic poverty in many rhino habitats to push rhino poaching worldwide to the highest levels seen in 15 years, according to the wildlife monitoring group Traffic. South Africa and neighbouring Zimbabwe are responsible for 95 per cent of the poaching, Traffic said. Now, conservation experts and South African parks officials say, international crime syndicates have entered the trade. The syndicates sponsor organised hunts and, increasingly, use helicopters, military-grade guns and prescription tranquillisers to pursue their prey.
"Current rhino poaching trends indicate a high level of organisation and crime syndication at the local, national, regional and international levels," Reynold Thakhuli, a spokesman for South Africa National Parks, said. More....