The fight against rhino poachers in South Africa took another grim turn Saturday night when an Augusta A109 utility helicopter crashed, killing five soldiers in the South African National Defence Force. The soldiers were participating in a routine patrol for OPERATION RHINO, an anti-poaching operation in Kruger National Park.
At the time of writing, investigators are still trying to find out what caused the crash. Kruger is South Africa’s premier national park, covering over 7,500 square miles. The sheer size of the territory, as well as the determination of the rhino poachers at a time when the powdered horn can be sold for nearly $30,000 a pound, means that there’s a lot of ground to cover.
Save the Rhino, a rhino conservation advocacy group, estimated that about 25,000 rhinos remain in Africa — 21,000 of them in South Africa, making it a target.
Late last week, South African officials confirmed that three poachers from Mozambique had been killed in a firefight between Kruger park game rangers. However, at this time, no one has determined whether or not anyone might have fired on the helicopter to bring it down.
It has been a tragic week for South Africa’s military. Last Monday, 13 South African soldiers were killed in a firefight with rebels in the Central African Republic’s capital. The CAR is under siege by elephant poachers, purportedly from Sudan.
South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma came forward Sunday to express condolences to the families of the five soldiers who were killed. Last week, South Africa and China signed an agreement to work together to stop the poaching.
Sadly, while elephant horns are at least made of ivory, rhino horns are made of keratin — the same material found in human hair and nails. Despite its use in traditional Chinese medicine, it has no medical value whatsoever.
But investors have now gotten into the game, pushing the price higher and higher in a speculative frenzy. Until the bottom falls out of the market, the deadly rhino poaching wars will continue.
[wild rhinoceros photo by Jane Fresco via Wikipedia Commons]