Animal cruelty: Rhino horn poaching in Africa
The Rhinocerous is one of the most powerful and prestigious creatures on land. They have two distinctive horns on their forheads that are used in wild battles.
But it is these horns that are so valuable that have made rhinos the target for groups of poachers in Africa who then sell the horns to the Far East for vast prices.
Gunmen shoot darts filled with powerful sleeping drugs at the rhinos which immobilises them. They have even been known to use helicopters to track the beasts. One the rhino has been shot, the poachers use saws or in some cases, machettes, to hack off the rhino's two horns.
For the rhinos being subjected to this kind of attack has devastating consequences. When the animal comes round from its drug-induced sleep it is often disorientated. There is often a gaping wound pouring with blood from where the horn has been butchered.
This leads to breathing problems and many of the rhinos will eventually die from their wounds. Female rhinos that are pregnant often lose their children.
There has been a large increase in these kind of attacks over the last couple of years. In 2010, there were 443 rhinos killed or seriously wounded by theifs who hacked off the creatures' horns. This compared with 17 incidents in 2007, according to the World Wildlife Fund
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Almost all of this cruelty is taking place in South Africa, which was once known as the last sncturay for the rhino.
There are currently just 1,916 black rhino and 18,780 white rhino in South Africa. At the rate at which the animals are being targeted, there may not be many years left before they are extinct alltogether.
So why has there been such an increase in rhino horn poaching? Well, most of the demand is coming from Asia, where the value of rhino horn is now higher than gold.
The horn is crushed and ground into a fine powder. It is then used as a medicinal treatment that people believe can alleviate fevers and pain. In Vietnam, people believe that rhino horn can cure cancer. In Hong Kong in Japan, rhino horn sells on the black market for £1,190 an ounce.
Despite this massive demand from the far east there is absolutely no medical proof that rhino horn can cure ailments. No doctor would ever suggest such a treatment and it is entirely unethical, cruel and misguided to add to the demand for rhino horn by purchasing it.
The individual pain that the rhinos suffer and the damage to the overall population has not deterred the poachers. They can make hundreds of thousands of pounds with a few horns.
These criminal gangs often hire helicopters and use high-tech equipment such as night-vision goggles and powerful drugs used by vets.
There have even been some vets from Nylstroom, South Africa, who have been arrested for allegedly supplying poachers with tranquilizers. This included Douw Grobler, the former head of game capturing at Kruger Park.This all points to determined criminal gangs behind the rhino horn poaching.
Most of the poaching takes place at Kruger Park, which does excellent conservation work including helping the 'crodiles that turned to rubber' after a bout of pansteatitis. The poachers often then flee over the border to Mozambique.
However, Kruger Park's anti-poaching boss Ken Maggs said there had been some violent gun battles with poachers. That these criminals are willing to risk their own lives highlights just how sought-after rhino horn is.
Maggs says that although they aim to arrest people and not to shoot to kill, when the poachers open fire, the game keepers have to fire back.
The game keepers at the park have now made attempts to prevent poachers from finding the rhinos. Information that used to be put on boards around the park directing tourists to the location of rhinos has now been removed. The authorities believe that poachers were using these sign posts in their hunt for the creatures.
Another game reserve that has experience poaching of rhino horn is Fairy Glen in Worcester, Western Cape. Staff there describe this as a 'kahki-colloared' crime carried committed by specialists.
The game reserve's owner Pieter de Jager said the rhinos are often dying once they have been targeted. He said they can barely breathe through their nasal cavities. The rhino is left in pain and in need to urgent treatment.
What can be done?
Thankfully there are people across the world who are working on behalf of rhinos and their welfare. There are also a number of ways that you can pledge support for these majestic creatures.
- Contact the team at Kruger Park in South Africa to show your support for them and the rhinos that they are protecting. Email them here.
- Contact the embassies for Vietnam, Hong Kong and China urging them to crack down on the illegal trade of rhino horn. The Vietnam embassy in the U.S. is here
- Visit the Kruger Park on a safari or donate to the World Wildlife Fund, both of which work to support animals around the world
- Pray for the rhinos and the gamekeepers and conservationists who are working to protect the creatures
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