By Syuzanna Petrosyan
One of Africa’s most prized natural assets, the rhino, has come on the brink of extinction as illegal poachers from Asia have increased exponentially. The rhino’s horn, while its main source of protection, has become its worst enemy, currently priced higher than gold.
South Africa is the epicenter of the poaching battle, at present home to around 85 percent of Africa’s 25,000 rhinos.
While in 2007, 13 rhinos were poached, in 2011, the number rose to 448 and 618 have already been poached in 2012. Most of the killings take place in the world-famous Kruger National Park, one of the continent’s biggest tourist attractions. As a member of the “big 5” animal group, the rhino is an important part of maintaining wildlife tourism in South Africa, a large portion of South Africa’s economy.
Illegal wildlife trade is at $7 billion to $8 billion per year, comparable to the money criminals can get in drugs, arms or human trafficking. At present, in the black market the rhino horn costs around $65,000 per kg, which is more than the price of gold. Moreover, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), since 2003, Vietnamese hunters are estimated to have paid more than $22 million to hunt rhinos in South Africa.
According to Robert Hormats, under secretary for economic growth, energy and the environment at the U.S. Department of State, the demand for rhino horns has increasingly gone up in the last 20 years partly because more people have more money to spend. For example, even though medical science has proven that rhino horn does not cure cancer, there are plenty of people with money who believe it does and are willing to pay up to $30,000 to get it, resulting in the slaughter of this endangered animal and an increasingly sophisticated breed of poachers.
In the recent years, the South African government has set forth many efforts to stop the poaching of the rhinos in Kruger National Park. The South African government has closed any loopholes in laws, which would allow poachers to earn legal hunting permits.
Most important of these efforts is increasing the number of rangers who patrol the park. Many times, these rangers shoot the poachers, at times killing them. By making the risk of death higher, the government hopes to decrease the number of poachers who arrive in South Africa.
Nonetheless, sophisticated guarding methods have resulted in more sophisticated poaching methods. So far, however, none of South Africa’s methods have focused on targeting the demand.