News & Updates
Winning the Rhino War only to lose again?
Published 1 November 2010
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Poaching Rhino now (2010) and then (1995)
Will this scourge of Rhino poaching never cease? As I considered writing about this topic so close to my heart I feel picture stays the same somewhat. The numbers grow , arrests are made, there was simply nothing to say that hasn’t yet been said. But with the almost daily bombardment of shocking images, blaring headlines and sad statistics on tabloid and screen there is a fury growing and maybe this is what we require.
Years ago during the transitional years of South Africa there was also a sudden surge in rhino poaching and at that time, together with our team of committed colleagues we formed Rhino Monitoring Units. This was probably the first in the now extensive field of Volunteer Tourism and was a proactive effort to prevent poaching by a strong presence and vigilant monitoring. Understandably this is no easy task when we are talking free roaming rhino in extensive reserves. To monitor rhino we made use of technology. Then we used the ground-breaking invention of the GPS and grid maps to plot rhino movements and home ranges. We were donated camera equipment by Cannon and lugged bulky video and still cameras around the bush to later print out rolls of film and edit hours of video tape. Technology was the answer; we even researched micro chipping the rhino horns with tracking devices that would be activated upon removal from the body and generally looked to modern electronic devises to make the monitoring both ground breaking and fun.
Ironically, it is the progress in technology since that time, that now poses the biggest threat to rhino. It is estimated that because of modern technology the time between the poaching act and the horn arriving on the market has been whittled down to a mere 48 hours in some cases. Cell phones and the internet make passing on information about the whereabouts of rhino a breeze. Poachers use helicopters, night vision scopes and veterinary drugs to track down and kill rhinos.
In the 1990’s when we ran the RMU project the main market for rhino horn was Yemen where it is tradition that, upon puberty a father will give his son a dagger called a djambiyya with the handle often fashioned out of rhino horn. Encouragingly the Yemen market appears to all but dried up now.This is apparently the direct result of a CITES initiative who embarked upon an awareness programme with the Yemen people about the result of their using of rhino horn for Yambiya handles, but also the down turn in the economy of that country recently.
In 2010 we face a new, emerging and greedy market in China where the Chinese economy has just become the strongest in the world by surpassing the USA. Vietnam has also become a player cunningly finding loopholes in the law and legally hunting rhino under our noses and then immediately converting the trophy to contraband upon arrival back in Vietnam. Alarmingly the Vietnamese Embassy personnel and property seems to be either used or involved in the sourcing and smuggling of rhino horn in South Africa.
With these seemingly massive threats to our prized rhino population we look again to technology for solutions. There is a movement towards compiling a national data base of Rhino DNA and increasing the use of forensics to both protect our rhino and prosecute the poachers. There is yet again talk of micro chipping but with new complications and possible counter innovation by the syndicates. Somehow we need to be one step ahead of these poaching syndicates and employ every method we can. South African’s cannot have saved our Rhino from the brink of extinction in the 1920’s to loose that same battle one hundred years later.
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