I wrote about this over at Gadling this morning, and thought it was worth mentioning here as well. According to this story from the Guardian, poachers have killed the last female white rhino in a popular South African game preserve in order to harvest her horn. The brutal act also orphaned her calf and brought the death toll to 136 rhinos at the hands of poachers so far this year.
The incident occurred last week in the Krugersdorp game reserve, not far from Johannesburg. Rangers believe that the poachers flew into the park in a helicopter and shot the rhino with a tranquilizer from the air. They then land, and use a chainsaw to cut off the horn. They’re generally back in the air before they even shut the rotors down, and the animals are left behind. Most end up bleeding to death or overdose on the drugs that knock them out.
The horns are then smuggled out of the country and sold on the black market in Asia, where they are prized for their alleged medicinal purposes. Made almost entirely out of keratin fibers, which are thin and resemble hair. The substance is the main ingredient of a number of traditional medicines throughout Asia, and the booming economy there has caused a spike in demand.
South Africa has ramped up its enforcement of these crimes in recent years, and they are now generally handled by the “organized crime” division of the police force. Sentences have also gotten stricter and longer, and criminals are being pursued more aggressively in the past. Prior to 2005, the country averaged less than 36 rhino deaths per year by poachers. Last year that number was 129, and we’re on track for a record number of kills this year.
I found this to be an incredibly sad story. Poaching is a horrible crime and when you consider that only an estimated 18,000 rhinos still live in all of Africa, you begin to see the magnitude of what is going on there. I suspect that this will continue as long as their is a demand or until there are no rhinos left in the wild.
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