By Ed Stoddard
New infantry-style tactics of concealment and ambush by armed park rangers are credited with turning the tide in the war against poachers of the endangered rhino on one front, in South Africa's Madikwe Game Reserve.
The slaughter of rhinos - a creature regarded as an icon of African wildlife - for their horns to meet soaring demand in Asia has raised alarm bells among conservationists.
Since April, Madikwe rangers previously so under-equipped that they lacked even boots have been undergoing military training overseen by a former British special forces soldier.
They have been kitted out with state-of-the-art gear provided by the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, a charity that supports anti-poaching initiatives on the African continent.
The numbers suggest this strategy is working. "Since the training started in April, we have not lost a rhino that we know of," said Declan Hofmeyr, chief of operations at Madikwe.
To be precise, the last rhino known to have been poached in the park was on April 6, more than 200 days ago, a remarkable turn of events given the onslaught that had been taking place.
Poachers have gunned down rhinos indiscriminately to meet demand from newly affluent economies in Asia, notably Vietnam and China, where the animal's horn is highly prized as a crucial ingredient in traditional medicines.
At $65,000 a kg (2.2 lb), rhino horn on the streets of major Asian cities is now more valuable than gold or platinum. South Africa, which is home to the vast majority of the world's rhinos, has become the epicenter of the slaughter.
Last year the 680-square-km (260-square-mile) Madikwe lost 18 rhinos to poachers, a dramatic surge from 2011 when two were slain. In the first 3-1/2 months of this year a further nine were killed in the park for their horns. More....