By Alex Upton
The poaching of rhinoceros in Africa is a growing problem. The increasingly prevalent photos of brutally slain beasts in conservation reserves or African savannahs provide an insight into the cruelty of the trade, but dramatic numbers reveal its extent. In South Africa, home to three quarters of Africa’s remaining rhinos, the number killed per year has increased from 13 in 2007, to 333 in 2010, to 668 in 2012. In Mozambique meanwhile, rhino numbers have plummeted from 300 in 2002 to zero as of this April when poachers killed the final 15.
These statistics drive home the fact that the killings are rarely isolated acts, but rather part of an extensive global trade involving experienced criminal networks and inevitably some official complicity.
Worryingly, this trade has not only been increasing in recent years, but it has been increasing despite concerted efforts from governments, NGOs, security forces and game rangers. Amidst these failures, many are now calling for a new approach, with some even proposing the legalisation of the trade in rhino horns.
A tough-skinned problem
South Africa is home to around 90 percent of the world’s white rhinos and around 40 percent of the world’s black rhinos. This makes South Africa central in the fight against poaching, and to tackle the problem the government has supported conservation efforts and even involved the military and police. However, even South Africa – probably the best-equipped African country to deal with the issue – is struggling. The main market for rhino horn is Asia – in particular Vietnam and China – where it is used in traditional medicines. Recently, demand has grown – particularly thanks to China’s growing middle classes – causing the black market value of horn to skyrocket; rhino horn currently stands at around US$60 000 per kilogramme – more than its weight in gold. More....