South African rhino deaths in 2011 reach new record
South African rhino killings soared to record heights up to 448 deaths due to poaching in 2011. That is up to more than one rhino a day and reports from today confirmed another eight killings.
Black rhinos have already been declared extinct in West Africa since last November by the International Union for conservation of Nature (IUCN). To make matters worse, the same could happen in South Africa. 19 endangered black rhinos were poached out of the 5,000 remaining. The total number of killings is rising, with 333 poached in 2010 and three times the number killed in 2009.
“More rhinos were poached in 2011 than has been recorded in any single year before,” said Andrew McVey, Species Programme Manager at WWF-UK. “If left unchecked, poaching gangs could put the survival of these iconic species in jeopardy.”
The rise of rhino deaths in South Africa is the result of global rhino horn demands. The increase of these demands commonly come from Asian countries, in particularly Vietnam where the horns are valued for alleged medicinal purposes. Rhino horns are put through trade by loopholes that weaken the excuse to stop people from smuggling.
“Killing endangered rhinos to mitigate a hangover is a criminal way to see in the New Year,” said Tom Milliken, rhino trade expert at TRAFFIC, which is an organisation that monitors wildlife trade.
In certain Asian culture, such as Vietnam, it is suggested that rhino horn can cure cancer, but Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) experts have discovered that there is no proven cancer treating properties in the horn as it contains only keratin which is commonly found in hair and nails. Vietnam needs to show progress in curtailing legal trade in rhino parts and derivatives to tackle poaching.
Wildlife Trade Policy Expert for WWF International, Dr Colman O Criodain insists that the next steps for action are to convince Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to push for stronger initiatives to stop future trade. CITES signatory needs to urge tough action and stop pharmaceutical companies continuing to manufacture medicines derived from rhino horn. China has started to demonstrate the willingness to fight and punish the horn crimes with lengthy prison terms. This is a serious issue to the animal existence as Vietnam has already wiped out black rhinos in their own country. South Africa is the home of most of the world’s rhinoceros population and runs the risk of becoming a ‘farm’ with easy targets for poachers.
In Africa and Asia, WWF and TRAFFIC are working hard to advance field rangers’ investigations. Only five percent of rhino poachers are convicted. The majority, more often than not, get away with the killings. The fight to stop this act is already under way with the recent start-up of the “International Rhino Foundation”.
The foundation will support rangers and increase security convictions and improve anti-poaching operations in the hope that it will conserve and protect one of Africa’s big five.