Rhino poaching is a conservation crisis that has received a consistent and substantial amount of media attention, due to the increased incidence of rhino poaching in both private and national South African reserves since 2008. According to the website Stop Rhino Poaching, 381 rhinos have been poached in South Africa in 2012 alone, which brings the total number of rhinos poached since 2008 to 1367.
The increase in rhino poaching has been attributed to the increased demand of rhino horn in countries like China and Vietnam, where ground up rhino horn is used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments, most notably cancer. In countries like Yemen, rhino horn is also used for the handles of traditional and culturally significant ceremonial daggers.
As most of the Asian rhino populations are critically endangered, an increased demand has presumably shifted black market activity to countries like South Africa, which has one of the largest general populations of rhinos in the world. Overall there are five global rhino species, only two of which have substantial populations in South Africa, namely the White Rhinoceros and Black Rhinoceros.
I was fortunate enough to have seen these animals recently, as I spent the last week doing an eco-training course on a reserve near the Kruger National Park. After spending time being immersed in the bush, with the excellent tutelage of experienced guides, I now have a different perspective on the issue of rhino poaching. This is because I’ve been made aware that rhino poaching is not an isolated case of human greed decimating an ancient species, but actually a criminal activity linked to other crimes such as human trafficking and drug smuggling which is facilitated on various levels by both national and internationally operated crime syndicates.
Another facet of the rhino poaching debate that I was also made aware of is that although rhino poaching is a critical issue, there are many other species that are poached regularly, including elephants and several other smaller species such as rare insects. Rhinos have received the most attention in recent times, but in fact, poaching is something that the game rangers I spent time with know is an issue they will always have to manage on some level, and not something they can easily eradicate, even with the dedicated and financially supported anti-poaching task forces necessary to curb the poaching crisis.
On a lighter note, during the course we tracked and sighted four sub-adult White Rhino, which we followed at a safe distance in the game vehicle and watched for over half an hour. After reading so much about the plight of these animals, it was a very humbling experience to see them in the bush, as vulnerable a species as they are. Spending time in nature and learning about everything from termite mounds to animal behaviour has also reminded me how important it is to connect with nature to truly realizing the value of conservation.
All the above information was gathered from conversations, presentations and information issued during a press trip sponsored by South African Tourism and Eco-Training, a wildlife training institute based outside of the Kruger National Park in South Africa.