Archive for Limpopo
Rhino have always been poached in Africa but until 2005, the numbers of animals killed illegally had been relatively low. Since then, the problem has escalated seriously and in 2012 a total of 668 rhino were poached. The increase has coincided with an increase in demand for rhino horn from Vietnam. The horn is ground into powder, mixed with water and the drink is used as a miracle cure for everything.
As Rhino have few natural predators, they don’t have many off spring so when an unnatural predator in the form of poachers starts to kill them, their numbers will decrease rapidly and even if all the poaching stopped today, it would take a long time to restore the numbers of White and Black Rhino. With rhino horn fetching around 60,000 USD per kilo and the weight of an adult rhino horn can be more than 3kg, it is easy to understand why the rhino horn is so valuable to poachers.
For most of us, the closest we get to rhino poaching stories are reading about it in the news. On a recent trip to South Africa, the story of a poached female white rhino was brought closer to home. We had booked into a small, private game lodge in the Waterberg (Limpopo province) for a safari break. The website listed the various types of game we may find including white rhino. However, a few weeks before we arrived, the poachers struck. There were a pair of white rhino at Bushwa lodge which lies around 10 miles (15km) north of Vaalwater and the entire property is fenced off with locked gates.
The group of poachers had gained access to the land and had tracked the female rhino. The poachers had initially shot the rhino in the spine to disable it and once it had crashed to the ground, they shot it in the head. However, even with their powerful weapons, the female was still alive. Although rhinos have poor eyesight, the female could see the poachers approaching. If you watch any wildlife programmes on TV where animals have been sedated with a tranquilliser, the rangers will often cover the animals eyes to reduce stress.
These poachers had little regard for the welfare of the rhino but as the last thing they wanted was an upset rhino, they brutally hacked out her eye while she was still alive before removing the horn. The carcass was left for the jackal, hyena and honey badgers while the group made off with the horn with little doubt it was destined for the Far East.
The poachers work in small groups and are able to target their prey in various environments such as large, national parks like Kruger or small private game lodges which are dotted all across the country. Far from being clumsy locals with no remorse, the poachers are professional, well organised and armed. They are able to track the rhino whilst leaving few, if any tracks of their own to alert rangers to their presence. They are armed with advanced weapons and are usually prepared to restore to deadly gun battles with authorities rather than face arrest.
One of the rangers took us to the spot where their rhino had been killed. The head had been removed and taken away in the hope of retrieved the bullet but to no avail. The rest was buried but local predators had little trouble locating and digging up the dead rhino. To make matters worse, the female had been pregnant so two rhino were lost. Small safari lodges invest a lot of money to have rhino on their property but they can’t insure them against poaching. A difficult decision has to be made whether to replace the rhino at great cost or not.
It is difficult to see how to solve the problem. Officials at various levels have been found to be involved either directly in poaching activities or by simply ignoring them. There is little point having laws in place to protect rhino if the officials won’t enforce it. My belief is that while the demand for rhino horn is there, poaching will always exist. That means the demand from Vietnam and other Far East countries has to be reduced. Unfortunately, I have no answers as to how this could be achieved.