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Poachers kill last female rhino in South African park for prized horn
Record levels of poaching are endangering survival of rhinoceros in
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Alex Duval Smith
The Observer, Sunday 18 July 2010
The last rhinoceros cow in Krugersdorp park, South Africa, bled to
death on Wednesday after poachers hacked off her horn. Photograph:
South African wildlife experts are calling for urgent action against
poachers after the last female rhinoceros in a popular game reserve
near Johannesburg bled to death after having its horn hacked off.
Wildlife officials say poaching for the prized horns has now reached
an all-time high. "Last year, 129 rhinos were killed for their horns
in South Africa. This year, we have already had 136 deaths," said
Japie Mostert, chief game ranger at the 1,500-hectare Krugersdorp game
The gang used tranquilliser guns and a helicopter to bring down the
nine-year-old rhino cow. Her distraught calf was moved to a nearby
estate where it was introduced to two other orphaned white rhinos.
Wanda Mkutshulwa, a spokeswoman for South African National Parks, said
investigations into the growing number of incidents had been shifted
to the country's organised crime unit. "We are dealing with very
focused criminals. Police need to help game reserves because they are
not at all equipped to handle crime on such an organised level,'' she
Rhino horn consists of compressed keratin fibre – similar to hair –
and in many Asian cultures it is a fundamental ingredient in
Mkutshulwa said poaching was also rife in the Kruger Park. Five men
were arrested there in the past week alone – four of whom were caught
with two bloodied rhino horns, AK-47 assault rifles, bolt-action
rifles and an axe.
Krugersdorp game reserve attracts at least 200,000 visitors every
year. It is also close to a private airport, which may have been used
by the poachers.
"The exercise takes them very little time," Mostert said. "They first
fly over the park in the late afternoon to locate where the rhino is
grazing. Then they return at night and dart the animal from the air.
The tranquilliser takes less than seven minutes to act.
"They saw off the horns with a chainsaw. They do not even need to
switch off the rotors of the helicopter. We do not hear anything
because our houses are too far away. The animal dies either from an
overdose of tranquilliser or bleeds to death."
The committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species (Cites) warned last year that rhino poaching had reached an
all-time high. The Cites conference in Geneva in July 2009 heard that
Asia's economic expansion had fuelled the market in rhino horns. The
horns are also used in the Middle East to make handles for ornamental
daggers. Cites said demand for them had begun to soar in recent years.
In the five years up to 2005, an average of only 36 rhinos had been
killed each year.
Conservationists estimate that there are only 18,000 black and white
rhinos in Africa, down from 65,000 in the 1970s. Mostert, who has been
a ranger for 20 years, said the animals fetch up to 1m rand (£85,000)
at game auctions and cannot be insured.
Cites has praised South Africa for its action against poachers. Two
weeks ago, a Vietnamese man was jailed for 10 years for trying to
smuggle horns out of the country.
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