Stop the rhino slaughter!

This is not what I'm searching for. Written on 29-04-2011 by miriamamukela

Since 2008 there is huge increase in the numbers of poached rhinos in South Africa. Several organisations try to stop the poaching, but so far it is in vain.  

Africa only has rhinos left in southern Africa, of which South Africa has the biggest population of white rhinos (about 19,000) and black rhinos (about 1,800). Speculations about the cause of the shocking increase are diverse. South Africa is now a bigger target for rhino poachers, since there are just no more rhinos in other African countries. The increased relations between South Africa and China could possibly play a role. And let's not forget the recession; unemployment means poverty and that can cause a person to turn to criminal activities sooner.

The horn

The horns of poached rhinos are smuggled to Asia (mainly Vietnam and China) where people believe that the horn has a medicinal value and can cure all sorts of illnesses, from fever to cancer. This is an absolute myth; the horn of a rhino is made of keratin, the same material of which hair and fingernails are made. But try to explain this to people that keep to the conviction of the medicinal value. Yemen is also a market for horns; the ritual dagger needs to have a handle of the horn of a rhino.

Methods of poaching

Rhinos have a good sense of smell, but very poor eyesight. Poachers that approach from against the wind can come very close to the rhino and this makes it an easy target. Often the poachers are poor, local people that go into the reserves on foot, armed with rifles to poach rhinos. These poachers are often not very good shooters and shoot randomly at the animal, often aiming at the legs to immobilise it. When the animal is down, the horns are chopped off with an axe or cleaver. The poachers make no exception for pregnant rhinos or mothers with calves. There is no mercy. 

Numbers of poached rhinos

The numbers of poached rhinos in South Africa have dramatically increased in the past years. In 2007 only seventeen rhinos were poached, in 2008 the number already increased to eighty-three, in 2009 the number was hundred and twenty-two and in 2010 a staggering three hundred thirty-three rhinos were killed. In the first three months of 2011 a hundred and twenty-one rhinos were killed already, which means that if the killing stays at this rate, four-hundred and eighty-four rhinos will die this year.

The poachers

Even more shocking is the fact that now some professionals are involved in the poaching. Well-placed shot wounds were found in rhino carcasses, which indicates a trained shooter: ex-militaries and professional hunters. In other cases the rhino was shot with an overdose of sedative and helicopters were used to locate and kill the rhinos and to transport the poachers and the horns.  

Anti poaching

In September 2010 a syndicate was rounded up in South Africa; among the concerned parties were vets, pilots and professional hunters. The professionals who should protect these animals! This caused rage in South Africa.

The SAPS (South African Police Service), Nature Conservation, SAN Parks ( South African National Parks), Private Nature Reserves, game rangers and security companies now work together to put a stop to the rhino poaching. A huge task, since the reserves have millions of hectares of land. On the bright side: people are regularly arrested and poachers are convicted. In April 2011 two poachers were even killed in the Kruger Park, close to the Orpen entrance. Unfortunately they had already killed two rhinos.


Some reserves try to protect their rhinos by cutting off, under supervision of a vet, most of the horns themselves (also called ‘de-horning’). This is done under anaesthetic, so the rhino is not hurt and the horn will grow back, just like hair.  They hope that the poachers will leave these rhinos alone but often these animals are killed anyway so the poachers won’t follow their trails in vain the next time. Other reserves place a transmitter in the horn of their rhinos (completely safe and painless for the animal) to be able to monitor it that way. The downside of this is that it is very expensive. Others suggested the possibility to legalise the trade in horns. Hundreds of thousands of legal horns (of rhinos that died of natural causes) are stored in vaults, but they can’t be used. The money that can be made with selling these horns could be used for nature conservation and anti poaching. The danger is that, besides legal horns, illegal horns will be sold too.

It is a difficult problem and in the meanwhile the slaughter goes on.


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