Blood, Medicine & Asian Black Markets: How Rhino Poaching Works?
Standing tall and erect in pride amid a pool of blood with an animal’s life or thousands of dollars in hand, ready to be shipped to a syndicate member. That is what successful Rhino poaching looks like.
Rhinos are in danger. These great, fast and daunting beasts can be very dangerous if a person chooses to bother them for wrong reasons. Generally, rhinos prefer to keep to themselves, like those hooded introverts in Stanford libraries. So, why do some people in the world – for a decade – have felt the need to kill them?
The Rhino horn trade is happening in full swing. It’s a major dilemma dawned upon the prospect of wildlife with thousands of Rhinos redeeming a doomed fate. Back in 2007, Rhino poaching was not even a common term and one would hardly find an instance for reference. The same year more than 13 Rhinos were reportedly killed in South Africa.
It was never thought to be the inception of a deadly and illegal trade gulping down thousands of beasts ten years later. South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs released staggering numbers of rhino poaching incidents in the past years. The number dramatically multiplied in 2008 and in 2017, it hit more a thousand. Now, poachers hunt down 2-3 rhinos every day. South Africa is home to 70% of the world rhino population that is roughly 29,000 now. The country is also a breeding ground of one of the world’s deadliest trade.
Poachers are classified on a number of levels. They could be military personnel, police officers, ranch owners, trophy hunters, vets, and international crime syndicates.
Rhinos use watering holes on a daily basis and that is a poacher’s dream because around these watering holes, rhinos become an easy target. Many of these beasts are accustomed to the presence of human beings and have habituated to a level that they do not often feel threatened by them. Hence, rhinos sometimes don’t run away or attack poachers.
A gunshot is the simplest way to take down a beast. The intention is to eradicate the horn and no matter what it takes or how painful a process might be, a poacher may be willing to take every measure of brutality. Poachers either kill, wound or tranquilize rhinos to an extent which allows them to hack off their horns using chainsaws. Heavy caliber weapons and assault rifles are primarily involved as part of a clean job. Some poachers even carry hand grenades in case of an encounter with an anti-poaching unit. Other processes involve veterinary drugs to immobilize rhinos, meanwhile, poachers remove their horns and leave them behind without administering an antidote. So, if a rhino is conscious after some time, they are met with a sluggish and painful end.
All it takes is 10 minutes to carry out a deadly attack leaving not many visible wounds sometimes
According to Rhino Conservation Botswana, it’s a 10-minute process: taking down a rhino, removing its horn and airlifting it away. Gunshots are fairly used to kill rhinos and since some poachers immobilize the animals using veterinary drugs, it leads to them having muscle damage, leaving them to dawdle to a side and die.
Game farms and game ranching are subjected to the full brunt of this menace. Rangers deployed on these sites frequently come into contact with poachers. These rangers are issued with certain control and responsibility, taking them down with a single shot is not an extreme sport for poachers either.
Poachers have two categories: professional and subsistence. The latter are usually tribal men on foot, with amateur shooting experience and who are willing to shoot down a rhino with a couple of fires to the head, chest, and legs. Subsistence poachers utilize axes to remove the horns. Once the job is done, a syndicate member takes over and passes on the horn for further proceedings. There is a very little reward for subsistence poachers.
On the other end of the spectrum, professional poachers use technology and are disciplined in their methods. They involve the use of tranquilizers, veterinary drugs, helicopters, and assault rifles to shoot down rhinos. The payday usually rewards more.
Unlike most beasts, rhinos do not roar or cry out when shot. Rhinos weep. If a mother is taken down, her baby usually lingers to her side in these lamenting moments only to be killed by an eager poacher, waiting around in sight for the baby, just to attack its spine with a machete and then take its horn. Babies are easy to kill, so why bother with a bullet?
Rhino horns are made of keratin, a protein found in our fingernails and hair. Once rhino horns are trimmed, they grow back. Rhino horns are illegal to sell but a permit in South Africa still allows trimming them off the beasts. Farmers actively engaged in cutting horns and collecting them in anticipation of a day when selling horns would be legal.
Treated as a precious appendage, every rhino’s horn is sold for a fortune. It’s as valuable as gold in the marketplace that sells elephant ivory, giraffe tail and tiger penis like hot cakes.
The largest black market of rhino horns is China and Vietnam where horns are often converted into medicine. Horns are minced and ground to powder forms. Ingested to treat conditions including snake bites, cancer, and even hangovers. In South Africa, the worth of a pound of rhino horn is roughly around $3000, whereas, in the Asian black markets, the prices go as high as $50,000 per kilo, as reported by The Times. The demand is appallingly colossal which has led these criminals to a proper system having different channels, links and parties involved.
Amid the horrifying prospect of horn trading, there have been a handful of strides to overthrow this illegal business spectrum. Security strategies have been largely adopted and implemented which have resulted in a staggering number of arrests, but that has failed to do the job.
The popular culture is actively involved in addressing this subject. Celebrities are swaying the public with their convincing powers to condemn rhino poaching and unite against it. Former England cricketer Kevin Pietersen and entrepreneur, actor and film producer, Tariku Bogale are to name a few.
KP has flooded his social media creating awareness, condemning incidents on all basis and documenting the efforts he is laying off-camera. Tariku Bogale is the producer, writer and lead actor of “Bloodline: Now or Never”, a film that sheds light on to the illegal poaching of Rhinos around the world. The film is a real tear-jerker and invokes a real sense of empathy.
While efforts to eradicate are flanking the problem, there is no denying that the entire business and chain of command is flagrant of corruption. Recruits are ever-increasing in numbers. There is excellent coordination between syndicate members. Cooperative alliances and coordination of bosses are matchless, which is a significant factor contributing to its success. This vicious cycle has called for global campaigners and animal rights activists to align foolproof strategies in disrupting the whole network of criminals and save rhinos from extinction in near future.