Rhino killings raise fears of poaching

 

FEARS THAT South Africa’s rhino population is under serious threat were heightened this week after the shooting of two tame animals on a farm in Limpopo province brought the death toll of poached animals to 182 this year.

Police say between five and 10 men armed with AK47s tied up farm workers at the Elandsfontein game farm in Vaalwater on Monday afternoon before feeding the two rhino tranquillisers, shooting them 17 times and cutting off their horns.

It has been reported the animals were being kept in a safety enclosure at the time of the shooting, and they were so tame that children could ride them.

Investigators said yesterday they hoped the evidence they had gathered at the scene of the crime would lead them to the poachers.

The gang escaped on foot but Andre Snyman of eBlockwatch, a rural community security organisation, said they believe an escape vehicle was waiting for them.

“They managed to get some tracks and they picked up a vehicle.Apparently they have some footage of a white BMW X5 that was driving there at that time,” he said.

The incident occurred at the same time a national committee comprising national parks officials, private rhino owners and security officials was being formed to tackle the ever-increasing scourge of poaching in South Africa.

The illegal practice has increased dramatically in South Africa over the past few years, due to an increasing demand for the animals’ horns from the Asian traditional medicine market, where it is used in homeopathic remedies and as an aphrodisiac.

South Africa has been recognised worldwide as a haven for wild life over the past decade although poaching has remained a problem. In 2007, the country lost 13 rhinos to poachers, but that number rose dramatically to 83 in 2008.

Last year, 122 rhinos across the country were poached for their horns, while this year 182 animals have been killed so far.

Dr David Mabunda of SANParks, the national parks board, said he was heartened to see such a strong presence from private sector rhino conservationists at the meeting with government and police officials.

“They have a crucial role to play.

“They own up to about 30 per cent of the rhino population in South Africa and therefore they have to come aboard.

“We need to co-ordinate strategies,” he said.

The new committee agreed to try and increase the resources needed to tackle poachers and work to change the international perceptions around the value of rhino horn.