On July 14 the last female rhinoceros in the Krugersdorp Game Reserve near Johannesburg bled to death after a gang of poachers cut off her horn. South African wildlife officials say a record number of rhinos are being butchered for their prized horns which are used in Asia to make medicine and in the Middle East for ornaments. Conservationists are calling for quick action to protect the animals.
Wildlife experts report that poachers are becoming more sophisticated in their efforts to steal rhinoceros horns. According to the Globalpost, gangs of poachers are being funded by organized crime syndicates that can get more than $100,000 for one horn.
In 2009, 129 rhinos were slaughtered for their horns and already in 2010, there have been 136 deaths.
The gang that killed the female rhino shot her with tranquillizer guns from a helicopter, then moved to the ground where they stabbed her and cut off her horn. The rhino’s nine-month old calf was by her side. Since the attack, the calf was relocated to an area with two other orphaned rhinos.
Wanda Mkutshulwa, a spokeswoman for South Africa National Parks explained how the attacks occur in an interview with The Guardian. She said, “The exercise takes them very little time. They first fly over the park in the late afternoon to locate where the rhino is grazing. Then they return at night and dart the animal from the air. The tranquillizer takes less than seven minutes to act.”
“They saw off the horns with a chainsaw. They do not even need to switch off the rotors of the helicopter. We do not hear anything because our houses are too far away. The animal dies either from an overdose of tranquillizer or bleeds to death,“ said Mkutshulwa.
Another recent attack in KwaZulu-Natal province was especially gruesome. In their haste to finish the job quickly, poachers cut off the horn and nose of a female white rhino. Her massive wounds should have killed her, but miraculously she survived. The rhino had a one-month old calf that was frightened off by the attack and couldn’t be found for several days. Tragically the young calf died from dehydration by the time wildlife officials found it.
The Wildlife Reserves in South Africa are not equipped to handle this type of aggressive poaching. In several parts of the country police and organized crime units are helping. And when they get their hands on poachers, the penalties are tough. Two weeks ago a Vietnamese man was sentenced to 10 years for trying to smuggle horns.
Some Wildlife Parks are turning to extreme measures to protect their rhinos by surgically removing their horns. There are only 18,000 black and white rhinos in Africa. In the 1970’s their population reached 65,000.
To help the rhinos of South Africa, please CLICK HERE to sign the petition to stop poachers.
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