NOTE: This is a guest post from our friends at the African Wildlife Foundation.
Poaching is often referred to as a low risk/high reward crime. In the midst of one of the worst rhino poaching epidemics of all time, we need to turn the poaching risk–reward dynamic on its head.
To date, 235 rhinos have been poached in South Africa alone as a result of the growing demand for rhino horn. Currently, the value of rhino horn is worth more than gold, up to $65,000 per kg. Given a surging illegal black market, the time to focus on security and law enforcement is now.
Around 130 poaching-related arrests have been made this year in South Africa, compared to 232 in all of 2011. The increasing number of arrests is promising, but what happens after the arrests are made?
Too often, it seems poachers are acquitted for their crimes. Those convicted face varying sentences, from mere fines to five or more years in prison. In order to make an impact, with arrest and conviction rates and with sentences, there must be strong coordination and interagency cooperation (such as the sharing of intelligence) between countries.
Ultimately, poaching must be treated and prosecuted as an organized crime. Poachers continue to evolve, finding ever more sophisticated methods to obtain their contraband. South Africa has made progress in identifying crime syndicates tied to rhino poaching and in applying the highly punitive laws associated with the prosecution of organized crime. All rhino range states must keep pushing for stiffer penalties, with the goal of presenting a unified front that will deliver serious consequences.
In some recent cases, park and wildlife officials have been suspended for suspected involvement with poachers. Unfortunately, the reality of the lucrativeness of poaching and the current low risk associated is coming to light. Severe consequences must be enforced to deter potential poachers from committing acts of poaching.
Security and law enforcement is just one of the areas rhino range states must focus on the combat escalating poaching rates. Take a look at the comprehensive action plan resulting from April’s Rhino Summit in Nairobi.
Photo by Paul Thomson, courtesy of African Wildlife Foundation