A white rhino has fallen victim to poachers just thirty minutes down the road at Kariega Game Reserve. This is the fourth case of the sort in the last year - the first in which the poachers managed to hack off the horn.
It seems there has been a major increase in poaching rhinos nationally with the slaughter of almost 50 in recent months. It is feared that poaching syndicates, who are getting high prices on the black market, may have turned their attention to the Eastern Cape.
This is the first poaching incident Kariega has ever experienced, according to Mark Rushmere, whose family owns the reserve. Shamwari Game Reserve lost a prize rhino to poacher activity in December last year, while Kwantu Game Reserve lost one in January. The latter was shot four times before running hundreds of metres and collapsing dead. Lalibela has also fallen victim to the surge.
In August a man was arrested in East London for trying to sell two rhino horns valued at R200 000. He was sentenced to R10 000 fine or four years jail. The incident at Kariega is a financial one too, as the average price of an animal is around R250 000.
Chief Executive of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, Yolan Friedmann, said recently in a Guardian article that the average number of rhinos killed has gone from 10 to 100 a year. “There’s a lot more money going into poaching and it’s becoming more hi-tech. These guys are using helicopters and AK-47 rifles. South Africa is facing a crisis. We’ve done extremely well in rhino conservation, but something has changed in the past 18 months; there’s an insatiable appetite for rhino horn in the Far East.” So far this year 84 rhino have been killed in South Africa. In 2007 the number was 13.
The Minister of Environmental Affairs, Buyelwa Sonjica, recently met her provincial MEC's, calling for an integrated anti-poaching approach for dealing with this rising problem.
In South Africa the penalty for anyone caught poaching rhino is R100 000 fine or 10 years in prison, or both.
So why Rhino horn and where does it go?
The horn is made up of a mass of fibres attached to the skin of the rhino. These fibres consist of a protein called keratin, which also forms the basis of human hair and fingernails, as well as the hooves of horses.
Rhino horn is highly valued in certain parts of the world for medicinal and cultural reasons. In the Far East, from Malaysia and South Korea to India and China, people believe the powdered-down or shaved horn, dissolved in boiling water, can cure fever, rheumatism, gout, and other disorders. There is also the myth that it serves as an aphrodisiac. In Yemen young boys are given a ‘Jambiya’, a dagger with a handle made from the horn, when they turn 12, as a sign of manhood and devotion to the Muslim religion. This, in a country where the ownership and trading of rhino horn is legal. People are prepared to pay up to US$ 1200 for antique rhino horn for these daggers.
Some argue that the trade in rhino horn should be made legal. They maintain that this would encourage people to protect, or breed rhino and sell the horn. By increasing the supply of rhino horn, the price would most likely drop, and incentive for poaching would be removed. Also legal trade would be easier to control than black market trading.
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