History of Poaching
Rhinos have been hunted and killed over the centuries for many reasons. In the mid 20th Century rhinos and other wildlife were killed so that their habitat could be used for agriculture. For example, between 1946-48, one thousand black rhinos were shot by one group of game control employees, who were preparing an area for agricultural settlement.
In the 1970s and 80s demand for rhino horn grew in the Middle East – horn was used as an ingredient in Asian medicine (thought to cure nosebleeds, strokes, convulsions, fever and cancer) and rhino horn dagger handles (jambiya) were worn as status symbols. During the 1970s almost 40% of all rhino horn on the world market was imported to Northern Yemen to be made into dagger handles. This produced a 20 fold increase in the price of rhino horn. In 1978 a top quality rhino horn jambiya sold for US$12,000. The increase in demand and price, coupled with economic and political instability in the African countries with rhino populations, led to a massive increase in rhino poaching.
In 1997 Yemen signed on as a party to CITES. This, combined with the Grand Mufti issuing a Fatwa (Islamic edict) saying that it was against the will of Islam to kill rhinos for dagger handles, led to a decrease in demand for horn. Dagger handles are now made cheaper materials e.g. water buffalo horn.
Recently the demand for rhino horn has increased again. This is due to the use of powdered rhino horn in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in China, Taiwan and South Korea. In a survey in 1993 of TCM practitioners, 60% stocked horn.
It is important to note that rhino horn has no medicinal qualities. It does not cure headaches/fever/cancer. However, the traditions in the East hold strong, and demand for rhino horn is continuing to increase. False claims that a Vietnamese government official’s relative had their cancer cured by horn have fuelled the demand. On the black market powdered rhino horn is now worth more gram for gram than gold or heroin.
The numbers of rhinos poached in South Africa over the last 5 years are:
2007: 13 rhinos poached.
2008: 83 poached.
2009: 122 lost to poaching.
2010: 333 rhinos poached.
Sadly, 320 rhinos have been poached thus far this year.
The high price of rhino horn now means that poachers can afford much more sophisticated equipment for poaching. Whereas it used to be the poverty stricken locals that were sent in to kill the rhinos using shotguns, it is now the case that trained criminals are doing the poaching.
Rhinos are sometimes shot and killed but, unfortunately, poachers are now using veterinary drugs to dart the rhinos. Dart guns are silent so prevent detection by anti-poaching patrols. The drugs are anaesthetics that cause the rhino to fall asleep. Meanwhile, the poachers will hack off the rhino’s horn, taking half the face with them as they do so. The rhinos are then left to bleed to death or, as in Geza’s case (see Geza’s story), are found alive and in immense pain the next morning. This means that rhinos are not only being killed but they are enduring horrific suffering, sometimes for many hours, before they die. None of the rhinos found alive have survived for longer than 3 days.
What is being done to stop poaching?
In South Africa
- Anti-poaching patrols in game reserves – this is very difficult as there are only a few individuals attempting to cover huge areas.
- Increased attempts to arrest and convict poachers.
- Michrochipping rhino horn and body, and DNA samples taken in the hope that a DNA map of South Africa can be made. This will enable samples found on the black market to be traced to their origin.
- Some game rangers are now removing the horn from rhinos – this involves darting them, removing the horn near the base with a chainsaw and waking the rhino up. This decreases the attraction for poachers but also affect the rhino as it cannot defend its territory from other rhinos, and cannot express other natural behaviours.