By Leon Marshall
The audience sat in stunned silence on hearing the announcement that, with five months to go, South Africa’s rhino-poaching toll for 2013 had already shot well past the 500 mark. The occasion was a meeting in Johannesburg where stakeholders were taking stock of strategies to put a brake on the killing spree.
With 536 rhinos killed in the country by the end of July, it seemed highly likely that conservationists’ worst fear would come true. This is that the death toll for the year will surpass 2012′s shocking 668 and head for 1,000.
This would mean that humankind might for the second time in less than a century be threatening to wipe out this iconic animal that walked the planet for many millennia before us. The last time the rhino was headed for extinction was during the first half of the previous century. Then it was thanks only to the desperate efforts of a few park rangers that it got saved from mindless hunting.
At the rate it is going, say conservationists, the death rate will in three years’ time start exceeding births, and that would put South Africa’s white rhino population of about 20,000 in decline and pose an even more immediate threat to the endangered black rhino of which there are hardly more than 2,000 left in the country.
Yet, grim as the news was, the impression from the Johannesburg meeting was that good progress was being made with the development of a comprehensive strategy for tackling the scourge on many fronts. It was even tentatively suggested that the rate of killing could start being turned round within a year or so. More....