News / Africa

Rhino Poaching in South Africa: Fighting Fire with Fire

Conservation groups consider more aggressive measures for protecting the endangered species

Darren Taylor
This is Part 3 of a 5-part series:  Saving Africa’s Endangered Rhinos
Continue to Parts:     1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5

 

Game ranchers in a district of South Africa’s Eastern Cape province recently took a radical step to try to keep their rhinos safe from poachers. They invested heavily in the establishment of a specialized anti-poaching unit. They staffed it with former soldiers and policemen.

Tourists view rhinos on South Africa’s Pumba Game Reserve … The country’s rhino owners are taking extraordinary measures to protect their animals from poachers.
Tourists view rhinos on South Africa’s Pumba Game Reserve … The country’s rhino owners are taking extraordinary measures to protect their animals from poachers.

“We’ve employed an ex-head of (the South African police) organized crime (section) to head the unit up for us. He gathers intelligence; he warns us; he manages crime scenes, so we are very proactive in trying to prevent our rhino from being taken,” said one of the ranchers, Dale Howarth.

The decision to create the unit was taken after criminals slaughtered four of the ranchers’ rhinos in rapid succession. “I don’t even want to think about what this unit is costing us,” said Howarth. “But if we don’t pay a heavy price, then soon rhinos will be extinct in this part of the world.”

Conservationists say international organized criminal syndicates are targeting South Africa’s endangered rhinos for their horns. Illegal trade in horn is driven by the misguided belief in some parts of Asia that it cures cancer when it’s taken in ground form as a traditional medicine.

The International Rhino Foundation said horn currently cost about $57,000 a kilogram on the black market, making trade in it extremely lucrative.

According to South African wildlife authorities, poachers have killed more than 1,000 in the country in the past five years. And the crime is increasing rapidly. In 2011 alone, almost 450 were butchered. A lot of the rhino were darted and sedated with veterinary drugs and their horns removed with chainsaws. The animals died from either drug overdoses or from excessive bleeding.

‘Commandos’

Kirsty Brebner, who heads the Rhino Security Project at South Africa’s Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), said she wasn’t surprised by the action taken by the Eastern Cape rhino owners.

South African conservationist Angus Sholto-Douglas says more intense security isn’t enough to stop the poaching
South African conservationist Angus Sholto-Douglas says more intense security isn’t enough to stop the poaching

“The reserves thus far have been severely under-resourced in terms of weaponry and so on, while they’re trying to stop criminals who are using helicopters, military night vision equipment and sophisticated high caliber weapons to target rhino. You cannot pit pepper spray against people who are armed to the teeth like that, so the militarization of anti-poaching efforts has been inevitable,” she told VOA.

Brebner said many wildlife parks are therefore now employing people with military, security and “commando” backgrounds –who have the necessary tactical skills to prevent poaching and capture the criminals.

With help from former members of South Africa’s Special Forces, she said the EWT had facilitated a “national coordinated training program” to teach rangers to combat poachers effectively.

Lucy Boddam-Whetham, deputy director of Save the Rhino International, commented, “The anti-poaching rangers have to fight fire with fire and they have to use the same equipment…. They’re risking their lives every day; the poachers would not think twice at shooting at them. It’s really scary stuff out in the field...”

No idea how a rhino horn looks

But those involved in the global wildlife industry acknowledge that heightened security alone isn’t enough to stop the large scale butchering of the world’s last remaining rhinos.

“I don’t really think that this is a war (that can be) won with guns and people running around in camouflage kit,” said Angus Sholto-Douglas, director of South Africa’s Kwandwe rhino conservancy.

Those involved in combating rhino poaching are implementing various strategies to stop the crime, such as the use of specially trained sniffer dogs to detect smuggled rhino horns.
Those involved in combating rhino poaching are implementing various strategies to stop the crime, such as the use of specially trained sniffer dogs to detect smuggled rhino horns.

Jacques Flamand, a rhino expert with the World Wide Fund for Nature and an internationally respected wildlife veterinarian, agreed. “The poaching wave has been met with increased expenditure on security, but still the poachers kill rhino. Like predators and prey, the predator is always one step ahead of its prey and works things out…. Whatever (security) measures you put in place, a poacher will always find a way around them,” he said.

And so those trying to save the rhinos are supplementing intensified security with other strategies designed to combat the poaching syndicates.

“We’ve done a lot of work with (South Africa’s) National Prosecuting Authority to sensitize law enforcement officials on the issues of illegal wildlife trade, and how big it is, and the terribly negative impact it is having on not only our biodiversity but on our country’s legacy,” said the EWT’s Brebner. “We’ve had a lot of trainings for judges, magistrates, prosecuting authorities and (South Africa’s elite investigating unit) the Hawks.”

In addition, the EWT is training officials at South Africa’s points of entry. “We’ve started at the O.R. Tambo airport (the country’s biggest airport, near Johannesburg) and with border control personnel, to teach them how to identify rhino horn,” Brebner explained.

She said such training for South Africa’s customs, border and seaport officials is “sorely lacking.… Most of them wouldn’t have any idea of what a rhino horn looked like, for no other reason than they’ve never been taught.”

An assortment of rhino horns and ivory products smuggled into Hong Kong from South Africa in November last year. A wildlife protection expert says some South African customs officials are unable to identify rhino horns…
An assortment of rhino horns and ivory products smuggled into Hong Kong from South Africa in November last year. A wildlife protection expert says some South African customs officials are unable to identify rhino horns…

The EWT is also providing customs officials with dogs that have been trained to sniff out illegal wildlife products, including rhino horn. “We should have two more dogs within a few months. We’re doing this in collaboration with a cargo clearing company,” said Brebner.

Asians must condemn poaching

But wildlife sector role players agree that the best way to stop, or at least to slow, rampant poaching, lies in Asia. “The answer is to convince the Asians not to use rhino horn, so that the black market dissolves and there’s no more incentive to kill rhinos for their horns,” said conservationist Iain Stewart.

“Education in the marketplace that’s demanding rhino horn is what’s needed,” said zoologist Jennifer Gush, who worked on a ranch where poachers had killed two rhinos. “The people who want it must be made to realize that it is not an aphrodisiac, it doesn’t cure cancer…I think if education started there, that would ultimately stop the demand, or reduce it.”

Wildlife officials in Vietnam arrange the skeleton of the last rhino in Vietnam, killed by poachers in 2010. Conservationists are calling on the country’s government to do more to end the poaching scourge.
Wildlife officials in Vietnam arrange the skeleton of the last rhino in Vietnam, killed by poachers in 2010. Conservationists are calling on the country’s government to do more to end the poaching scourge.

Wildlife reserve manager Alan Weyer insisted that the poaching wave would break “only when rhino are worth more alive than dead. What we’re dealing with here is that in a certain part of the world the reverse is presently true.”

Howarth is adamant that the level of poaching will drop only when the governments of the Asian states alleged to be the centers of illicit horn trade, most notably Vietnam and China, speak out against it.

“Only those high authorities can stop people from buying rhino horn,” he said. “Their people won’t listen to outsiders.... The Vietnamese and Chinese governments (must) condemn it, and categorically state that (rhino horn) is not a cure for (any) sickness.”

South Africa and Vietnam cooperate

Tom Milliken of Traffic International, an organization that monitors the worldwide trade in wildlife products, has facilitated several meetings between South African and Vietnamese officials in his attempts to ease the poaching crisis.

“In setting up these meetings, we felt very strongly that as South Africa is moving very decisively to try to curtail this crisis, it’s imperative that countries where the consuming markets are, are active collaborating partners with South Africa in trying to defeat rhino crime,” Milliken said.

At one of these meetings, he said, Vietnamese state representatives acknowledged it would be “very difficult” to convince their citizens that rhino horn had no curative qualities, because the belief is entrenched among many in southeast Asia.

Nevertheless, Milliken described the meetings as “positive.”

“Both governments have now agreed a memorandum of understanding to establish collaborative law enforcement on rhino crime issues,” he said. “As soon as higher level government officials have signed it, hopefully we’ll enter a phase of more proactive and collaborative law enforcement between South Africa and Vietnam to deal a big blow to the criminal syndicates.”

‘Courting death’

Milliken did, however, emphasize that the Vietnamese authorities need to be harsher on their citizens who are trading illicitly in horns. “The most severe sentence that the Vietnamese authorities have ever imposed for this was in 2008 when an individual was given only three years in prison for possession of illegal rhino horns,” he said.

In contrast, Milliken said the Chinese government is “rising to the occasion and penalizing people caught with illicit rhino horns very severely.…One individual with two horns was given 15 years in prison.…”

He called on governments across Asia to launch “radical” public relations campaigns aimed at stopping trade in rhino horns.

“The bottom line at the end of the day in Asia (must be) if you’re betting on rhino horn to cure your cancer, you’re probably courting death.”

You May Like

Video Positive Messaging Helps Revamp Ethiopia's Image

In country once connected with war, poverty, famine, headlines now focus on fast-growing economy, diplomatic reputation More

Russian Activist Thinks Kremlin Ordered Nemtsov's Death

Alexei Navalny says comments of Russian liberals who think government wasn't involved are 'nonsense.' More

Video Land Disputes Rise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Imagei
X
Marthe van der Wolf
March 03, 2015 9:03 PM
Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More