A known 158 rhinos have been killed this year by poachers in South Africa alone, that country’s Department of Environmental Affairs said on Friday. Kruger Park, the nation’s premier wildlife reserve covering over 7,500 square miles, has lost 116 of the animals, and several other parks have also been attacked.
In 2012, 668 were poached, and 267 poachers were arrested.
As Tara Dodrill reported in January, South African law enforcement has had to bring in high tech tools to stop the poachers including everything from surveillance aircraft to night vision goggles. Sixty-one people caught poaching or helping the poachers have been arrested since the start of the year.
South Africa, with its highly regarded park system, is home to as many as 90 percent of all rhinos that remain in Africa, making them a target for rhino hunters. By autumn of 2012, the black market price for powdered rhino horn had reached nearly $30,000 a pound — an incredible temptation to poachers.
And the sad thing is that we thought that medical technology had saved the rhino.
The release of Viagra and other medically proven drugs for erectile dysfunction was supposed to put an end to the rhino killing. Why deal with shady characters to pay big bucks for an illegal remedy that doesn’t work when you can get an affordable drug with reliable results from your own pharmacist?
Unfortunately, that was a myth. According to Richard Ellis, author of Tiger Bone and Rhino Horn, in traditional Chinese medicine, powdered rhino horn was more of an all-round remedy — a classic snake oil used for everything from high blood pressure to relieving dizziness. Apparently, if science invents an effective medicine for one problem, then the sellers will bob and weave to market the powder for another purpose.
In his report for the conservation group Save the Rhino, Ellis noted the problem of the vicious cycle. Now that the rhino powder has soared in price, some people are buying it not to use as a medicine at all but as an investment that they believe can only become more valuable once the animals are extinct.
The situation has gotten so out of hand that poachers will even attack museum specimens to steal the horns. A gang of thieves moved through Europe stealing the fakes, forcing museums to cut off real rhino horns and replace them with resin models.
Thieves have actually stolen the worthless fakes.
If people are poaching for investment, rather than to preserve life or health, then educating them or inventing a better medicine won’t help.
It’s time to consider techniques that will actually force down the price. One suggestion has been to allow a tightly controlled, legal trade, but there are a lot of concerns about how — or whether — it would work.
My humble suggestion is to spread the word that the fakes are out there. An investor might hesitate to spend $30,000 for something a DNA test could prove is fake. How would you try to stop the rhino killing?
[baby rhino photo courtesy Valentina Storti and Wikipedia Commons]