Special army units patrol SA border for rhino poachers
Specialised army units have been dispatched to patrol South Africa’s borders to stop rhino poachers who are threatening the species with extinction.
The decision to send specially trained soldiers to poaching hotspots around the country has come after eight rhinos were killed for their horns on a single farm in South Africa’s North West province last weekend. On Tuesday police arrested three men – one a park ranger – for killing the animals at the Klipkopspruit Farm near Rustenburg.
Last year the government sanctioned the use of army units to patrol inside the Kruger National Park, which borders Zimbabwe and Mozambique, but this is the first time the military’s anti-poaching brief has extended to areas outside the state-owned game reserve.
Poaching syndicates involve international criminals, but those who pull the trigger are often poor people from rural communities found either side of South Africa’s boarders with its six neighbours.
The weekend’s death toll brings the number of rhinos killed this year to 570, which is a record number of incidents. Last year 435 rhinos were poached, but in 2007 only 13 of the animals were killed for their horns.
A belief in Asia that rhino horn can cure anything from impotence to cancer has been the driving force behind the illegal trade’s resurgence. The horns are transported to countries like Vietnam, where they are sold for up to €50,000 a kilo on the black market.
Endangered Wildlife Trust’s rhino project manager Kirsty Brebner said last month she was shocked at the unprecedented levels of poaching in South Africa, which, with 20,000 animals, is home to 90 per cent of Africa’s rhinos. “If you consider the [population’s natural] growth rate is 6 per cent a year, we’re getting close to a tipping point. That means when your deaths exceed your births, so the species starts to go into decline.”
The most recent attack prompted North West premier Thandi Modise to call on the army to step in as conservation bodies have neither the resources nor the skill to stop the killings.
The army units have so far been dispatched to patrol South Africa’s border with Swaziland and Mozambique as 58 of the rhinos killed this year were in KwaZulu-Natal province, which borders both countries.
The new plan will see the formation of a highly specialised task force for deployment in poaching hotspots. The strategy will be to catch poachers before they enter the province’s 13 rhino reserves.