Windhoek — Rhino poaching has increased drastically in South Africa over the past three years.
On average, one rhino is poached per week in that country, since the increase of the illegal activity. This year alone, about 126 rhinos were poached, not to mention figures of poaching cases that are unreported.
Poaching started surging in 2007, with 13 rhinos killed, while in 2008 some 83 animals were killed, and 2009 saw 122 rhinos killed.
South Africa has a white rhino population of about 19409 and a black rhino population of 1678.
It is mostly white rhinos that are poached, as only two black rhinos have been killed so far.
According to Rynette Coetzee of the Law and Policy Unit of the Endangered Wildlife Trust of South Africa, the increase in poaching can be attributed to people realising the value of the rhino horn.
“It is also in demand for medicinal purposes. People believe that the rhino horn can cure cancer and stomach ailments,” Coetzee said.
A high-ranking official in the Vietnamese government allegedly recently stated in public that he was cured of cancer after using the rhino horn.
This is also believed to be the cause of the increase in poaching activities, in South Africa, which is among the few countries left in the world where the rhino population is still in existence.
A Vietnamese national was recently convicted and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment after being arrested at O.R. Tambo International Airport in March this year in possession of seven rhino horns (16 kilograms) representing four poached rhino.
The horns were worth approximately N$900000.
Poaching is mostly reported in the Kruger National Park and along the Mozambican border.
Patrolling along the border, where most poaching is taking place, she said, is very difficult as the borderline is very long and there are not enough human resources in the Kruger National Park for patrols.
Coetzee noted that it is an organised crime involving South African nationals, Mozambicans, as well as Vietnamese. She added that a number of Mozambicans were recently arrested in connection with the crime.
“They use automatic weapons, such as AK47 with silencers so that owners cannot hear the shooting. Sometimes they also use single-load weapons,” she noted.
In some cases, poachers also use helicopters and tranquilisers, as well as dart guns.
“We suspect some of our veterinarians are involved in this crime,” Coetzee stated.
She noted that there might be unreported poaching taking place, especially on private wildlife farms, where owners are weekend farmers and might not yet notice that their rhinos are missing.
“It is very worrisome,” Coetzee said.
However, the South African government is addressing the issue as several stakeholders such as the environmental management inspectors of each province, the organised crime unit, also known as the HAWKS, Interpol, and the endangered wildlife trust have formed a unit, known as the Wildlife Crime Reaction Unit.
Meanwhile, Namibia is home to the largest free-roaming population of black rhinos in the world.
The species, almost extinct a century ago, has grown tremendously and poaching activities of the species are currently very rare.
Just this week a number of black rhinos were relocated from State land to communal conservancies.
The exercise is hailed as a conservation success whereby people in communal land with no formal conservation status are given the chance to look after the endangered species themselves.
Authorities did not want to divulge the number of animals relocated or the exact sites due to fear that poaching activities in South Africa would spread to Namibia.