The Fight Against Rhino Poaching: An Update

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Monday, 11 October saw six men comprising an alleged rhino poaching syndicate appear in the North Gauteng High Court. These men had been arrested with regard to seventeen rhinoceros killings, between 2005 and 2006, in various areas around the Kruger National Park, Umfulozi National Park, and game farms in Bela Bela and Komatiepoort.This comes as another step in a recent upsurge of protest against the rapid increase in rhino killings, and an apparently thriving rhino horn trade. This team, from whom were confiscated a helicopter and light aircraft allegedly used in their hunting and transporting operations, will face charges of racketeering, money laundering, theft, malicious damage to property, and contravening the conservation acts and the aviation act. With equipment, resources, and large teams of people operating in collusion, both against the rhino populations of these parks and the prosecuting authorities, it’s easy to see the problems facing park officials today.KrugerPark.com recently took to the streets as part of the Wildlife ACT and Rhino Africa anti-rhino-poaching protest outside the Cape Town Parliamentary Buildings. (check out the photographs here). Armed with our placards and the swelling indignation of a street full of angry park supporters, we saw the true spirit of rhino support in South Africa. Which made this article in the Times Online, in which actress Elle McPherson openly discusses her use of crushed rhino horn, all the more concerning:

Witter: You’re said to be a great fan of Chinese medicine. What does powdered rhino horn taste like? E MacP: A little bit like crushed bone and fungus in a capsule. Does the job though. Witter: How do you know that it works? A lot of people say Chinese medicine is quackery. E MacP: Put it this way, works for me.”On a list of things for celebrities to be definite about, one way or the other, and in today's climate of information access and world awareness, ingesting rhino horn seems a little dated, and pretty unpleasant, all things considered.

Matthew Lewis, the World Wildlife Fund’s senior programme officer for African species, recently told the Christian Science Monitor, “Thus far in 2010 alone, more than 200 rhinos were poached within South Africa, with a lot of those poached outside national parks. So that's a more than 2,000% increase in just three years.” This increase has led, in part, to the proposal of a controversial new plan by Wildlife Ranching South Africa (WRSA) to legalise the trade in rhinoceros horn within South Africa. Operation Manager Reinhardt Holtzhausen recently proposed the unbanning of rhino horn trade. He explained that “The emphasis would be on strict trade controls. We would never support the option of private game owners trading in the horns themselves. Horns should be handed over to government, and the government would take full responsibility for the trading in the horn.”“Under the current system, the people involved in trading horns have been driven underground, which means that they have to rely on poachers for stock." Whether this impression of the poaching market will be the foundation for a mitigating new system of legal trade, or the start of a new crack through which rhino poachers can slip while looking to pad their wallets with illegally traded horns, remains to be seen.

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