18 January 2012
The South African government is exploring ways of combating the increase in rhino poaching in the country, including the possibility of dehorning the animals, says Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa.
About 24 rhinos have been killed in South Africa since the beginning of January, while figures from South African National Parks (SANParks) show that 448 rhinos were killed for their horns last year.
The most affected areas were said to be the Limpopo and North West provinces.
Demand from Asia
Experts say the spike in poaching in Africa and South Asia was largely caused by increased demand for rhino horns in Asian traditional medicines.
There are still many myths associated with the rhino horn in some Asian countries, such as China and Vietnam, where it is believed that the horn can heal fever, enhance sexual performance and reduce the chances of stroke.
Molewa said it was clear that the authorities needed to up their game in curbing the poaching of rhinos.
“It is clear that this is an organised crime, and in dealing with organised criminals, we need input and action from all South Africans.”
She said a study had indicated that the decision on whether or not to dehorn a rhino population depended on a number of factors, including the level of poaching threat, the availability of funds, and the size of the rhino population in question.
“Due to the invasive nature of and expenses associated with dehorning, the intervention should only be considered under conditions of relatively severe poaching threat,” Molewa said.
A continuing study commissioned by the government will also look into whether legalising the trade in rhino horn could help to bring down poaching.
National Wildlife Reaction Unit
Other measures include the establishment of the National Wildlife Reaction Unit, which the authorities are hoping will help in information sharing and curbing poaching in South Africa’s largest parks.
Molewa said the South African National Defence Force has also been returned to monitor the 350 kilometres of the national border in the Kruger National Park. Most of the country’s rhinos are found in the Kruger Park, leading to many cases of poaching being reported there.
While the alarming figures have raised concerns among animal rights groups and activists, SANParks said it was not yet time to press the panic button.
According to the organisation’s CEO, David Mabuza, there are around 22 000 rhinos in South Africa, accounting for 93 percent of the world’s rhino population. The rhino population is said to be growing at a rate of six percent a year.
“So while all of us should be worried, it should be noted that the killings have not yet threated the rhino population in general. But if we continue at this rate, we will start seeing a decline by 2015,” Mabuza said.