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Rhino poaching at shocking all-time high in South Africa

The crisis
The numbers are grim—rhino poaching in South Africa averaged nearly one a day in 2010. Of the 333 rhinos illegally killed last year, ten were critically endangered black rhinos, according to national park officials. This is the highest ever recorded in South Africa and nearly triple the number in 2009 when 122 rhinos were poached. Alarmingly, the new year began with another five rhinos lost to poaching.

“This is not typical poaching,” said Dr. Joseph Okori, WWF African Rhino Program Manager. “The criminal syndicates operating in South Africa are highly organized and use advanced technologies. They are very well coordinated.”

The current wave of poaching is being committed by sophisticated criminal networks using helicopters, night-vision equipment, veterinary tranquilizers and silencers to kill rhinos at night while attempting to avoid military and law enforcement patrols.

The recent rhino crime wave is largely attributed to the increased demand for rhino horn, which has long been prized as an ingredient in traditional Asian medicine. Its popularity increased in Vietnam after claims that rhino horn possesses cancer-curing properties, despite any medical evidence.

How you can help

  • Never buy rhino horn in any form.
  • If you have an antique rhino horn or a trophy keep it secure and don’t sell it
  • Learn more about wildlife trade and share information with family and friends.
  • Adopt a rhino. Your adoption will further WWF’s conservation work.

What we’re doing
Poaching to feed the illegal wildlife trade is not a local problem. It is a global issue that has far reaching impacts from the ground up. WWF and our wildlife trade program called TRAFFIC are working to combat the crisis on different levels.

Locally, we support anti-poaching operations, the introduction of new technologies like transmitters in rhino horns, facilitate regional dialogues on security and raise awareness among the public. TRAFFIC also provides information to law enforcement agencies globally on the latest developments and assists in coordinating their efforts to combat international trafficking.

In South Africa, WWF’s Black Rhino Range Expansion Project aims to increase the overall numbers of black rhino by making available additional breeding lands. This is done by forming partnerships with owners of large areas of natural black rhino habitat. So far, 98 black rhino have been translocated to new rangelands and at least 26 calves have been born on project sites. In December 2010, South Africa’s Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Authority committed to donating 20 black rhino to the project in an effort to aid South Africa in reaching its national target of 5,000 black rhinos.

In the international arena, we work to reduce demand in consumer nations and stop wildlife trafficking through initiatives liking aiding enforcement officials to detect rhino horn in transit. With funding from the US government, TRAFFIC facilitated a visit of five South African officials to Vietnam, the country heavily implicated in the recent poaching surge, in October 2010. The visit was an important first step to discuss strategies to combat the illegal rhino horn trade.

”Strategic, coordinated enforcement cooperation was urgently needed between the two countries to get ahead of the criminal syndicates and thankfully, that has started to happen now,“ said Crawford Allan, regional director of TRAFFIC North America. “Stemming the demand for rhino horn among Asian communities is the sustainable solution to this challenge - improving awareness, stronger penalties and finding alternatives are complex and tough approaches to implement but they also have to be rolled out now wherever a market persists, to compliment the urgent enforcement efforts.”

WWF and TRAFFIC also play an active role with regional bodies like the South African Development Community and CITES to monitor rhino horn trade and find policy solutions.

South Africa has responded by intensifying its law enforcement efforts, and made approximately 162 poaching arrests last year. The country is home to approximately 21,000 rhinos, more than any other nation in the world.