More than 170 rhinos have already been killed in South Africa this year for their horns.
In 2007 the number was 13, in 2009 124, and in 2010 a massive 335 rhinos. Worse still, says Wilderness Foundation CEO Andrew Muir, is that the number of rhinos lost is expected to reach close to, or even exceed 400 rhinos in 2011.
“We are seeing the beginning of a crisis if we do not address this problem collectively.”
Continued poaching may even reverse “one of the greatest success stories in conservation”.
Muir notes that there were only 400 white rhinos remaining in the world in the 1800s, with this number turned around to reach 20 000.
“We, as a collective conservation community, literally saved this species.”
However, the rise of rhino poaching over the last few years – in some quarters associated with the rise of the Chinese and Vietnamese economies and, with it, the deep-seated belief in the unproved medicinal qualities of rhino horn – has spelt disaster for South Africa’s national and private game parks, housing 90% of the world’s rhino population.
The estimated black market value of an average rhino horn is R500 000, or around 20% more than the gold, says Muir.
In an effort to assist in protecting the country’s rhino population, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles has announced the sponsorship of six Amarok bakkies to the Forever Wild Rhino Protection Initiative.
The R2-million sponsorship is part of a partnership between the local arm of the German vehicle manufacturer, and the Wilderness Foundation, the pioneers and administrators of the Forever Wild Rhino Protection Initiative.
The Amaroks were handed over to the conservation agencies in the high priority areas of Mpumalanga, North West, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, such as the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency.
The vehicles will be used to train and educate park rangers on rhino poaching, and to quickly reach poaching scenes, especially to preserve the evidence necessary to secure successful prosecution, says Muir.
He adds that the long-term solution in stemming rhino poaching lies in the successful prosecution of offenders, political will, here and in Asian countries, and prevention.
He especially applauded a memorandum of understanding signed only last week between the South African Police and its Vietnamese counterparts.