poaching crisis Archives - Rhino Review

Gov’t buys more body bags as war against rhino poachers intensifies (Botswana)

By Antipoaching, Illegal trade One Comment
Mbongeni Mguni, Mmegi Online | February 7, 2020

Read the original story here

Government has purchased more body bags and more military personnel are due to be deployed to rhino poaching hotspots as the State mounts a ‘war’ to save rhinos whose population is reportedly on the brink of extinction in the country.

Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism permanent secretary, Oduetse Koboto told Mmegi that strategic interventions on the rhino crisis are being finalised, but in the meantime more body bags had been already ordered to cater for the expected higher fatalities amongst poachers.

Original photo as published by Mmegi Online: More poachers to be shot.

Cabinet is due to soon consider a raft of interventions proposed by the ministry and other experts to stem the poaching crisis in which 35 or so rhinos have been slaughtered in the past nine months, leaving the overall population at dangerously low levels. Since April last year, the country has been losing up to two rhinos per week, prompting government to issue a rare admission last October that the frequency would wipe out the beasts in “one or two years”.

Government officials, from the ministry up to President Mokgweetsi Masisi are playing their cards close to their chests on what the planned interventions are, saying any revelations would forearm poachers.

However, Koboto said ahead of the decision on which interventions to adopt, the “shoot-to-kill” policy had been fortified.

“The issue of the number of bodybags does not have to wait for the strategic interventions; that one we have already done it,” he told Mmegi.

“If anything happens, we will not shy away from taking these people out when they put our people at risk. “Anyone who puts our people in danger, we expect that they will be brought in alive or dead. The bags are to collect them.”

It is understood the Department of Wildlife and National Parks has stepped up its intelligence gathering efforts to root out the drivers of the onslaught on rhinos and the strategic interventions to be considered will speak to the data gathered.

“Poaching is not a straightforward activity when it is being done by professionals,” Koboto said. “Sometimes, these people even go beyond what we would
anticipate, in terms of their planning. They invest in these plans because the activity is high risk and they come up with strategies to beat ours.

“In some cases they may even infiltrate our operations to try and get information about what we are planning.” He added: “We are working to establish networks and we have an idea of what is going on. Our strategic actions will look at that.

“These incidents previously were not happening and we have to invest in this area of knowledge. “We want to know how they are operating and the information they have.”

Koboto said strategic decisions were due to be taken urgently as the crisis was continuing. “We may announce the nitty gritty of what we will do because they will try and counter that. However, we will be clear on the objective.

“There are trials of some actions also taking place on the ground because this is an ongoing concern.

“As we sit here, the problem is going on.”

The latest rhino crisis is not without precedent, as in 1992, poachers ran black rhino numbers to zero and white rhinos to just 27. Aggressive interventions by the Botswana Defence Force, government policy to move the beasts into sanctuaries saw numbers gradually rise.

Relocation exercises from South Africa also helped shore up the numbers, before the crisis which came to light last year.

“People may think we are not doing anything about this problem, but it does take time.

“We are also working with our partners in the private sector on this.

“This type of situation is not like buying bread from a tuckshop; it’s a difficult matter and we are also asking the media not to sensationalise it.

“We don’t want to lose our men on the ground and in fact, the security of our people is the priority here,” Koboto said.


Horns of a dilemma

By Antipoaching, Conservation, Illegal trade No Comments
Daniel Hudon, The Smart Set | January 16, 2020

See link for illustrations.

A gray hulk standing in the South African savannah, with a massive, brooding head and wary eyes, the horn a perfect mathematical curve sharp enough to slice the wind, one of nature’s great achievements. I can’t hold the image for long because it is soon replaced by another rhino in Kenya surrounded by four men with AK47s. They are the last hope to save this rhino from being murdered for its horn, a commodity worth more than gold.

I try again. This time I see a rhino on its side, a bullet wound in its neck with a trickle of blood, its face hacked off and horn missing. I let that image go as soon as I can.

Long have I wanted to see a rhino in the wild and when I joined a conservation project at a private reserve in Greater Kruger National Park, South Africa, I dreaded that my first experience with rhinos in the wild might be to see a dead one.

For ten years, South Africa has suffered a poaching crisis. In 2006 and 2007, one or two rhinos were poached per month, but between 2013 and 2017, the numbers ballooned to more than 1,000 rhinos poached each year, an average of three per day, while in 2018, there was a slight drop and 769 rhinos were poached. After losing a quarter of its population in five years, it’s possible the downturn was because there were fewer rhinos to poach. For perspective, if the USA were to lose 25 percent of its population, it would be like clearing people out of Texas, Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania. Altogether, it is less a poaching crisis and more a plundering, a systematic destruction of the population.

In my rhino imaginings, rarely can I get past the carnage to see the majesty that I seek, a beast as suited to walking with dinosaurs as with elephants. I remember the Borges story, Dreamtigers in which the author tries to dream a tiger, but, he says, “Never can my dreams engender the wild beast I long for.” The tiger would eventually appear, but often as flimsy, the wrong size or shape, a poor replica. I don’t know what quality the rhino has: stoic brutishness, a sort of tragic innocence, some mystique I can’t put my finger on, all of which compels me to try to see it before it is gone forever.

As a volunteer, one of my first tasks was to visit two local schools and help out with their environmental education program, known as the Bush Babies, run by a 27-year-old, always smiling woman named Lewyn Maefala. With two other volunteers, we read a story aloud to the seventh-grade class about a rhino calf who woke up in a sanctuary. She slowly remembered that poachers killed her mother and cut both their horns off with an ax. During the reading quiz, I watched 30 heads go down and hands scribble as Lewyn read out questions about rhinos, rangers, poachers, and orphanages. Though they lived on the edge of the reserve, most of the children, if not all, had yet to see their first rhino. For them, the rhino was very much an imagined animal.

When Lewyn handed back the previous week’s homework, she cheered the students who did well. If they continued to succeed in the program, they got a chance to visit the reserve. She told us later that she also paid attention to students who underperformed, to reduce the chance that they one day became poachers.

Original illustration as published by The Smart Set.

This was the topic around the campfire almost every night — how to stay ahead of the poachers? The night I arrived, Craig Spencer, the warden of the reserve, was holding court. Bare-chested, wearing camouflage pants and smoking a pipe, he asked, “Why is it that our technologies can tell us where to park in London or Johannesburg or any big city but the same tools aren’t being developed for wildlife protection?” To that end, the reserve was collaborating with an IT startup to develop a sensor that, when implanted in a rhino, could record its heart rate and communicate the data via radio to a receiver. An elevated heart rate would indicate alarm — a poaching threat. A second sensor implanted in the horn could be helpful in tracking it in the event of the rhino being poached.

I imagine a rhino poacher, perhaps 30-years-old, under-educated and unemployed, tracking a rhinoceros in Kruger. He has been offered more money than he can make in a year for a rhino horn. He doesn’t think of himself as a pawn of a large crime syndicate — if he is shot they will simply recruit someone else — he thinks instead about the money, a temporary, lucrative job to support his family. It is a calculated risk. If he is arrested, his chance of going to trial is slim. After all, he thinks, there are more serious crimes, and the rhino is just an animal. Near the entrance to Kruger, a sightings board has markers for where visitors saw elephants, lions, buffalo, leopards, cheetahs, and wild dogs, but no rhino sightings are logged as a precaution against poachers like him using the information.

While at the camp, a news report circulated about a poacher in Kruger who was killed by elephants, then eaten by lions. In fact, “Poacher Killed by Elephant then Eaten by Lions” was the headline, as if it was trying to convey some sort of karmic retribution — the animals teaming up and fighting back against their aggressors. His companions told his family what happened and they requested help from the rangers to recover the remains of the body. Another widow, another broken family thanks to the allure of poaching.

I imagine a conversation half a world away, in Vietnam, among the elite.

Hey, I’ve got some rhino horn —

Great, let’s get drunk and not worry about a hangover.

Rhino horn ground into a powder and used as a tonic. Or horns given as gifts to superiors for favors or to improve status. Horns used in the belief of curing cancer. In China, rhino horn has been used in traditional medicine for centuries to potentially reduce fevers and treat rheumatism and gout and as a sort of cure-all. Tests show rhino horn, similar to a horse’s hoof, has no medicinal value, but cultural myths die hard. Despite ads by celebrities like Jackie Chan, former NBA star Yao Ming, and Vietnamese martial arts actor Johnny Nguyen, with weak law enforcement, campaigns to reduce demand have so far had little effect.

The rhino has long been misunderstood. In Europe, most people had never seen a rhinoceros until Albrecht Durer circulated prints from his famous woodcut in 1515. Durer based his work on a description and sketch of a rhino that came to Lisbon — he never saw it. Though it was credible in terms of size and form, it was as much a battering ram as an animal. Durer showed the body as a mosaic of plates of armor, riveted together and added an extra horn between the shoulders. Yet for more than 200 years, this was how Europeans imagined rhinos. But the real tragedy is the rhino’s association with the fabled unicorn, whose horn was thought to be able to detect poisons and have healing powers. In Vietnam and China, this association has had remarkable and unfortunate staying power.

One night around the campfire, Craig said, “If one percent of the Chinese population still wants rhino horn or even one percent of one percent, rhinos are fucked.”

I imagine rhino horns in a display case, waiting for a buyer. The horns range in size from short, stubby mounds to long, curved rapiers. Despite the international ban on rhino horn trade, an economic surge in Asia has created demand among the nouveau riche. A population of Javan rhinoceros lived in Vietnam until it was poached to extinction in 2010.

How to protect the rhinos from this increased demand? Craig’s answer is to recruit and train predominantly women from villages surrounding the park to act as security guards. It’s both community engagement and economic outreach: they got a job and status within their community. The goal is to foster pride for the wildlife among the locals, even if they had not visited the reserve. If the mothers, aunts, and grandmothers of the village are excited about the wildlife, perhaps their kids will be too. They are known as the Black Mambas Anti-poaching Unit, named for the deadly African snake, and they also run the Bush Babies program. When two of them, Felicia Mogakane and Colin Mathebula, came up to dinner at the camp wearing their camouflage uniforms, I asked them the hardest part of their work. “It is not hard,” Felicia replied, “you just have to focus.” They are both proud of being a Mamba. The best part, they said, was going back to their villages in their uniforms and seeing the respect they got from children and adults alike.

A few days later, after their dawn patrol of the fence, the Black Mambas reported finding a snare on a rhino. Whoever set the snare was probably looking for smaller game — bush meat — but the snare could injure any animal, small or large. So six of us went out to search the area. We stretched out in a line an arms-length apart and walked through the bush, trying to find a thin length of wire among the grass. It seemed an impossible task. As the sun beat down I tried to avoid the thorn bushes and stay focused, as Felicia had said. How does a poacher think? I wondered. He has to think like an animal who would find pathways among the trees instead of exposing itself in the open. When the Black Mambas started in 2013, they found eighty snares per day; now they find just five or six per week. Today we came up empty.

One night, I joined the Black Mambas on their patrol of the electrified fence that forms the westernmost edge of Greater Kruger National Park. Greater Kruger is a mix of national and private reserves that’s as large as the 30 largest US National Parks combined, so once a poacher is inside the park, it would be easy to temporarily escape detection in the bush. The patrol was the same any night: they looked for holes in or under the fence, made sure the electricity is intact, searched for footprints near large trees (which could be climbed), reported vehicles parked on the other side of the fence. In the darkness, the rover’s headlights provided a feeble view, so they scanned both the fence side and bush side of the road with spotlights. We drove to the power box to make sure it wasn’t tampered with. An elephant trumpeted at our close passage and one of the Mambas promptly nicknamed him “Boogalu.” They all laughed at the surprise encounter. At the end of the fence, we stopped for an “Observation Post.” The rover’s engine was turned off and we listened for anything suspicious: voices, gunshots. I strained to hear anything beyond the buzz of power lines. A baboon barked. The Milky Way blazed overhead. Tonight, there was nothing to report.

Why do we look at animals? There could be 100 answers to this, all equally valid. To experience an otherness, a mystery in the living world. To glean the secrets that make them so similar and different from us. Because they are strange and beautiful. Because we envy their qualities of strength or fleetness or dexterity. Because we love their unabashed wildness and long for that in ourselves. Though we’ve had a century and a half of Darwinian evolution, where humans occupy one branch on the Tree of Life and rhinos, elephants, giraffes, and lions all occupy other branches, we still harbor the 19th-century notion of the Chain of Being, that humans are the top rung on the ladder and animals are on various rungs below us. In The Outermost House, Henry Beston wrote, “We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves.” This is our folly, to see the animal as something we can use and manipulate, rather than on its own terms, in control of its own life. Beston continues, “For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear.”

Around the campfire, Craig also spoke about an attitude shift that he’s hoping to engender. He called it environmental patriotism. He said that people visit France, for example, for its culture and architecture, achievements that the French are justly proud of. Even if the Nazis would have won, he argued that French culture would have persisted because of the resistance. I thought of the recent fire at Notre Dame Cathedral, how a billion euros was pledged for its restoration in just a week. Craig wanted the same for South Africa, for people from all over the world to visit and see these incredible animals, and for the locals to be proud of them. Poverty and previous apartheid laws, which prohibited blacks from entering national parks, have formerly led local people to see wildlife as “something that belonged to white people.” But between the goodwill and positive press that surrounds the Black Mambas, who are succeeding in work thought to be for men only, and the long term Bush Babies program, I imagine a local pride taking hold, and flourishing.

My timing at the reserve was auspicious because while I was there, the owners decided to take an extreme and controversial step to protect their rhinos. They were going to remove their horns. Both male and female rhinos have horns; males use them to attract mates and females use them to protect their young.

I imagine a rhinoceros, charging through the bush.

The procedure begins with a plane circling to find the animal. Once found, a helicopter chases it and darts it so that the animal falls forward onto its sternum, which reduces the risk of injury. Then the ground team has three minutes to remove the horn before complications arise.

At dawn, another volunteer and I accompanied Leonie, a field technician at the reserve with long black hair that matched her unlaced black boots, to track two of the last rhinos that had yet to be dehorned. It was a mother and her calf and though checking the camera trap turned up nothing, Leonie had a hunch where they might be and we drove to the edge of the reserve. She soon picked up the familiar three-lobed footprints on the dirt road and radioed in the information. Some fresh dung — still warm — confirmed her suspicions about the direction they were heading. A plane was called in to circle the area and we waited. I wondered if the first rhino I saw in the wild would be madly charging towards me, chased by a helicopter. But the plane kept the rhino beyond us and when the helicopter was called in, we were too far away to be involved.

We drove to the rendezvous location and waited for the other ground teams.

Suddenly, down the hill, the calf of the now-dehorned mother charged out of the bush, like a wild child throwing a temper tantrum. It crossed a road and plunged back into a protective cover. Just beyond our sight, the helicopter caught up to the calf and darted it. We gave chase but in a Keystone Kops moment, stopped suddenly when the veterinarian’s Land Rover ahead of us ran out of gas. They threw all the equipment into the back of our vehicle, we switched drivers and sped madly through the bush, careening between trees and axle-crunching boulders. Three ground teams pulled up and we each grabbed chainsaws and vet kits and ran to the downed calf. The veterinarians applied the blindfold — it looked like a big baby with a toothache. The chainsaw roared into life and the nub of the horn, no more than three inches long, was sawed off. A harsh sound for a harsh but quick operation that I could barely watch. The vet carved away the stub with a grinder and applied resin so that it looked somewhat natural. But it was still a rhino without its horn. Another vet applied the anti-sedation serum and we dashed back to our rovers. Once the calf awoke it would cry for its mother and hopefully the two would quickly find each other. At least in this case, unlike the story we read in the school, the calf’s mother was still alive.

Back at the rendezvous spot, one of the other teams produced the mother’s horn and I gasped at its size, like a crescent moon, but with a wider base. I couldn’t quite process seeing the horn without its rhino; momentarily I felt like we were in collusion with the poachers. The horn was to be handed off to a government official and kept in a bank vault. It is legal to sell rhino horn in South Africa but illegal to sell it internationally.

I imagine a rhino without its horn.

Dehorned. Defaced. Defiled. It’s like taking the roar out of the lion, the laugh from the hyena. Though I understand the logic of trying to buy time until demand goes down or less invasive — and traumatic — protections can be devised, such as microchip implants we heard about at the camp, it robs the rhino of the very thing that makes it a rhino. When I was on patrol with the Black Mambas, Goodness Mhlanga, who was driving the Land Rover, said the dehorning didn’t sit right with her, that the rhino became like a toy with the best part broken off. Though the horns grow back, I worry rhinos are being used as pawns, that private reserve owners are dehorning their rhinos as a stockpile, in case the international ban ever gets lifted.

I imagine a great pile of rhino horns going up in flames. In a high profile public burn, like Kenya has done with elephant tusks. Only burning the horns will prevent them from finding their way out of the country while the price is so high. But in 2017 owners of private rhino farms convinced South Africa to lift the ban against selling rhino horn, so burning the stockpile is unlikely anytime soon.

In three weeks at the reserve, the downed calf was the only rhino that I saw. I finally saw rhinos a week later in Huhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve (“Sha-shlu-way Im-full-oo-zi”), south of Kruger, where the white rhino was restored from the brink of extinction a century ago, and they were every bit as beautiful and mysterious as I had hoped. I first glimpsed a mother and her calf grazing in the bush, wandering away from the dirt road. Through the trees, I could barely see the mother’s horn curve upwards like a scimitar and I gasped as if I was seeing one of the secrets of life. In the afternoon, I drove back to the same place and now two rhinos stood side by side in a clearing, watching me pull up thirty feet away. I held my breath and we stared at each other for several seconds as they tried to assess whether I was dangerous. I could scarcely believe that after all this time, I was now looking eye-to-eye at not one but two rhinos, each with their horns. Then in an instant they turned with stunning agility and dashed into the bush, leaving a cloud of dust glinting in the sunlight. Later, in a wide-open savannah, I saw eight or ten rhinos — a veritable “crash” of rhinos — lounging in dried up water holes and resting in the shade of a bush or tree. They too still had their horns, for now.

The rhino in Kenya that was guarded 24 hours a day was named Sudan and he died in 2018 after months of poor health. He was the last male northern white rhino and is survived by his daughter and granddaughter. The rest of the population has been wiped out by poaching. The same could happen in South Africa.

I don’t want to imagine, a few years from now, the last few rhinoceroses in a sanctuary within the reserve, guarded around the clock, unable to be seen by the public while the poaching crisis continues. But I don’t know what I would do if we lost the rhino. What I most want to imagine is exactly what I saw in the late afternoon at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, a crash of rhinos wandering out of the bush, unmeasured by humans, resting in the open savannah, snoozing in the shade, moving finished and complete, free.

Daniel Hudon, originally from Canada, is an adjunct lecturer in math, astronomy, and physics. He is the author of two books of nonfiction: a humorous intro to the universe, called The Bluffer’s Guide to the Cosmos and a lyrical prose compendium designed to raise awareness about the biodiversity crisis, called Brief Eulogies for Lost Animals: An Extinction Reader. He likes to go hiking and kayaking and to dance the Argentine tango. He can be found online at danielhudon.com, @daniel_hudon, and in Boston, MA.


Botswana’s rhinos are under siege: It’s time to learn from historical mistakes

By Antipoaching, Conservation, Reintroducation No Comments
Erik Verreynne, Op-Ed / The Daily Maverick | January 10, 2020

See link for photo & audio of article.

Rhinos were reintroduced to the supposedly secure sanctuary of Botswana’s Okavango Delta with the backing of the photographic safari industry and despite misgivings on the part of conservation professionals. Now the rhinos are being killed by poachers and desperate measures are called for.

News of 22 rhinos being killed by poachers on Chief’s Island in Botswana’s Okavango Delta during the past nine months, 13 of them in the past two months, has sent shockwaves through the conservation world. While Namibia reported a drop in rhino poaching statistics, the increase in poaching in northern Botswana came as a surprise and shock to many. The escalation in poaching started when 13 were poached between April 2018 and January 2019.

Botswana has been portrayed as a safe haven for rhino and elephant in the tourism marketing campaigns of the last five years, but now the government has warned that the population of rhinos in northern Botswana “could be wiped out within two years”.

Original photo as published by The Daily Maverick: White rhino, Etosha National Park, Namibia: As Namibia cracks down on rhino poaching, the poachers are now hitting targets in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. (Photo: Tony Weaver)

At least eight of the rhinos killed are the rare South Central black rhino of which most were released less than five years ago near Mombo on Chief’s Island in the middle of the Okavango Delta. The white rhinos being poached are part of a population of Southern white rhinos (SWR) reintroduced in 2002/3 in the same area, as well as nearly 100 white rhinos released recently in various photographic concessions of the Okavango Delta by Rhinos Without Borders (RWB).

There may be a number of additional reasons why rhino poaching in Botswana has been escalating since 2018. The intensification in anti-poaching measures in neighbouring Namibia may have played a role.

The main reasons, however, for the inevitable, are embedded in the notions that the previous Botswana administration and a few photographic safari operator companies ignored the warning signs and the lessons learned from Botswana’s past rhino conservation history.

They motivated rhino relocations according to the needs of the tourism industry and not the needs of rhino conservation, used it as a marketing exercise and dismantled the local advisory structures when they opposed further reintroductions in the Okavango Delta. In short, tourism demand for the “Big Five” superseded the risks posed to rhinos in the Okavango Delta despite the warnings and warning signs, and rhinos were released in potentially high-risk areas where they never should have been.

Botswana has always had a turbulent relationship with rhinos with two near-extinctions of its wild rhino population in the 20th century. The central driver is the sparsely populated, vast open wilderness areas interspersed with the waterways of the Okavango Delta, all in close proximity to unfenced international borders. The location and geography allow easy covert intrusion and quick escape routes by syndicates based in neighbouring countries, and renders monitoring and law enforcement challenging and very expensive.

Both black and white rhinos were believed to have gone extinct in Botswana in the 1890s. Reintroductions of 156 SWR between 1967 and 1980 from South Africa into Moremi Game Reserve and Chobe National Park were wiped out by cross-border poaching.

An extensive aerial survey in 1992resulted in estimates of only 27 rhinos left of the wild population in the north, of which three were killed shortly after the aerial survey. The decision was made to capture all rhinos left, bringing them into the protection of the newly established Khama Rhino Sanctuary, and breed them up to be released once the security situation has changed.

Six SWR were subsequently captured in Chobe and Moremi between 1992 and 1996 of which only four survived (one died of bullet wounds inflicted while in Chobe). The population at Khama Rhino Sanctuary was supplemented with animals from Pilanesberg National Park and Mafikeng Game Reserve in South Africa, and soon grew into an “Important 1” population and later into a “Key 2” population according to the African Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG) classification (Emslie and Brooks, 1999).

The last few years of the old millennium brought some relief to rhinos, allowing wild populations to grow and allowing the establishment of various closed system semi-wild populations both in Botswana and the rest of the region. A sense of security, even though fragile, prevailed.

A new introduction of SWR from South Africa and Zimbabwe into the Okavango Delta started in 2003 as a collaboration between Okavango Wilderness Safaris (later Wilderness Safaris), the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP), Zimbabwe National Parks, SANParks and North West Parks Board where 33 SWR and five black rhino were reintroduced into Mombo on Chief’s Island.

A number of rhinos dispersed from Chief’s Island during the following years despite the island being surrounded with water for parts of the year. The movements of dispersing rhinos outside Chief’s Island were regularly reported to authorities by communities and hunting concessionaires, and their cooperation made retrieval and relocation possible.

Most individuals were captured and relocated back to Mombo. Not all were fortunate and two sub-adults that followed the zebra migration routes to the Makgadikgadi National Park were poached in Nxai Pan National Park. Another dispersing rhino was poached 35km West of Maun while a breeding bull relocated to Makgadikgadi Pan National Park was also poached not far from the scout camp. Despite these continuous dispersals and isolated cases of poaching, the core population settled well and grew into a “Key 2” population during this period of relative safety in the region.

Nearly 10 years after the 2003 reintroduction, the regional security situation changed for the worse. First Zimbabwe, then South Africa experienced unprecedented levels of rhino poaching. Namibia was to follow four years later.

Members of the Botswana Rhino Management Committee (BRMC), a national representative advisory committee to the Director of DWNP, were concerned about the announced reintroductions of 100 to 300 rhinos by RWB from “high-risk poaching areas in South Africa to the comparative safety of Botswana”.

The concern was based on the history of rhino poaching in Botswana, the difficult terrain near open international borders and the changing regional poaching threat. An assessment of the risks in the Delta and a change to an alternative Intensive Protection Zone outside the Delta were proposed with the contingency plan of placing half the intended rhinos in a sanctuary where they could be adequately protected.

The translocations went ahead despite the concerns and according to their website, RWB translocated a further 87 SWR between 2013 and 2017 to exclusive high-end tourism concessions in the Delta. Wilderness Safaris translocated a significant number of South Central black rhinos to Mombo from South Africa and Zimbabwe in 2015. Rhino Conservation Botswana (RCB) was established as a trust and took over most of the monitoring of the rhinos. Rhinos responded as in the past, a few dispersing from release sites with some even ending up in Namibia.

The wild population is now experiencing the next onslaught as security improves in neighbouring range states. Zambian syndicates with alleged insider information and assistance are killing rhinos in the main Intensive Protection Zone of the Okavango Delta at an alarming rate despite monitoring by RCB and a strong Botswana Defence Force (BDF) presence. Soldiers issued with automatic weapons are patrolling the area and reportedly not hesitating to kill when threatened. The government of Botswana said in a statement that seven poachers have been killed so far.

Compared to other African range states, the loss of fewer than 20 rhinos per year seems low. However, the impact on a wild population of only 200 SWR and less than 50 black rhino is enormous and losses to poaching are already exceeding the population growth rate of Botswana’s wild population.

If it continues, and all indications are it will, we are in danger of experiencing another extinction of our wild rhino population in Botswana. Once the high concentration population of Mombo has been depleted or secured, other areas will follow until our anti-poaching capacity is stretched beyond its limit. It is naïve, maybe even arrogant, to believe we can totally protect a population of 200-plus rhinos spread over vast wilderness areas when finding them for monitoring is already a challenge.

The cost of monitoring the rhinos in such a vast and difficult area is enormous. Cost and manpower are difficult to define. If we take suggested required budgets cited by Clive and Anton Walker (Rhino Revolution, 2017) for protecting rhinos in SA at $1,115 to $2,231/km² per year with a personnel need of one ranger per 15-30km² ( for reserves 1,000km² and larger), then the roughly 1,050km² Chief’s Island will require an annual budget of at least $1.17-million with 35 rangers constantly patrolling the area. The manpower required exceeds the available Anti-Poaching Unit capacity which, with the BDF, is also tied up over a much wider theatre with an increase in ivory poaching and tons of bushmeat leaving the Delta annually.

The proposed budget required for Chief’s Island (just 0.12% of Botswana land surface) alone is more than 1.5% of the ministry’s total recurrent budget for 2018/19 and about 10% of Wilderness Holdings declared profit before tax for the 2018 financial year. And the question remains: Are the rhinos benefiting more by keeping them in these high-risk areas?

Even if we can come up with the budget, a policy that only focuses on “fighting fire-with-fire” will not safeguard all the rhinos and responses to poaching incidents will remain reactive. Proactive intelligence is important to prevent incidents and this is only possible with the goodwill of the surrounding communities. The government in its statement indicated that it has “considerably stepped up efforts to address the poaching situation” and some rifles and horns were retrieved. Is it enough though?

We must not for one minute believe the onslaught is from neighbouring countries only. With communities left out of direct benefits from rhinos and other wildlife in the Delta for more than five years, the sympathetic eyes and listening ears of surrounding communities have long faded or are looking the other way.

You now only need one disgruntled employee to inform. Rhino locations in the photographic tourism industry are exciting news and knowledge is shared from managers down to cleaners. Some people believe rhinos are worth more dead than alive, and with communities not benefitting, it will take time to change the perception, unless we can demonstrate direct and immediate benefits to communities in looking after rhinos.

It is time to abandon idealism and face reality before we are again left with only 27 rhinos. History can be harsh in its judgement and time will not forgive Botswana if it fails. The solution to the present carnage lies in a swift and pragmatic reaction to safeguard as many of the rhinos in the Delta as possible by relocating a significant proportion of them to safer, smaller, community-based sanctuaries away from the hotspot areas – at least until we can change the value perception of rhinos.

The terrain will not change. The poaching onslaught will not change soon. What needs to change first is the risk to poachers which can only be achieved by concentrating the population in smaller areas where we can concentrate our defences optimally. It is a concept used all over the region with even Kruger National Park in South Africa resorting to moving their remaining rhinos to a fenced-off Intensive Protection Zone.

The concept has shown success in the private and community-owned southern population of Botswana where the other half of Botswana’s rhinos are looked after with assistance of the BDF in sufficiently sized units as semi-wild populations. Only five rhinos were lost to poaching in 2018 in these populations and none in 2019.

Secondly, by benefitting communities as custodians of the rhinos, the beast from within is neutralised and the concept that rhinos are worth more dead than alive is diluted. Proactive information becomes available and informant risks increase.

History dictates a repeat of the 1992 emergency relocations and the establishment of another, safer, community-based rhino sanctuary as obvious. We dare not ignore it.

Significant funding is needed to move these rhinos back into safety. However, the funding required should be significantly less than when translocating the rhinos to Botswana from South Africa. If the industry could generate enough funding to move the rhinos to Botswana, they should be able to generate enough to remove them to safety.

Rhinos are not a key species. The biodiversity in the north of Botswana flourished in their absence for many years. But as a flagship species, they deserve to be protected, and keeping them in high-risk areas for the sake of tourism is against all sound principles. Tourism, like any other form of wildlife utilisation, must promote conservation in a sustainable way. When it fails, as is the case with rhinos, responsible tourism should be willing to give up the privilege of seeing endangered species in the wild.

Viewing semi-wild rhino in Botswana is better than viewing no rhino at all.

Dr Erik Verreynne (BVSc, M.Phil Wildlife Management) is a wildlife and livestock veterinarian in Botswana. He is the co-ordinator of the Research and Veterinary Working Group, and Rhino Working Group of the Botswana Wildlife Producers’ Association.


The 2010s: Nearly 8,000 rhinos poached in Mzansi this decade (South Africa)

By Antipoaching, Illegal trade No Comments
The Independent Online | December 28, 2019

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Nearly 8000 rhinos have been poached in South Africa over the past decade. That’s according to the Stop Rhino Poaching NPO, a local website dedicated to raising awareness and support for the war against rhino poaching.

Rhino poaching is part of a multibillion-dollar worldwide illicit wildlife trade, with rhino horn considered a prized possession in Asian medicine.

Original photo as published by IOL: Since strategies were put in place in 2014, there has been a decrease in the number of rhinos poached. – Armand Hough African News Agency (ANA)

For the past few years, government and environment organisations alike have been working tirelessly to curb the poaching crisis, while attempting to preserve and grow existing numbers of the endangered animals.

Stop Rhino Poaching founding director Elise Serfontein said South Africa was home to 74% of Africa’s remaining rhino population. “The estimated number of rhinos in South Africa as related by the African Rhino Specialist Group is 15,625 white rhino and 2,046 black rhino,” Serfontein said.

In 2014, the Cabinet adopted the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros approach to draw together the work of the Department of Environmental Affairs together with the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster and Agencies.

Since its adoption, there’s been a decrease in poaching incidents from 1,175 in 2015 to 769 in 2018.

“We will need to wait for the official figures from Environment Minister Barbara Creecy to be released, but all indications are that there will have been a further decrease in poaching for 2019,” said Serfontein.

She said the dip in poaching figures has been due to a collective approach in the fight against poaching. “From the ranger on the ground working tirelessly to protect rhinos, to the magistrate or judge that takes a firm stand against poaching with a good sentence Along this chain are reserve staff, security personnel, law enforcement officials, prosecutors and myriad other people that include reputable NGOs and their donors.”

Going into a new decade, Serfontein said there would be continued efforts to further preserve rhinos.

Technology has also seen a rise of video technology security solutions to assist in anti-rhino poaching methods, including drone technology.

From January to December 2018, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) obtained convictions in 78 of the 82 rhino poaching cases.

As of September, 318 rhino had been poached in South Africa.


Scientists create fake rhino horn from horsehair in a bid to save the species

By Antipoaching, Illegal trade, Science and technology No Comments
Amy Woodyatt, CNN | November 8, 2019

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Scientists have developed a fake rhino horn using horsehair, in a bid to create “credible fakes” to flood the market and reduce demand for the material.

Researchers from the University of Oxford created the synthetic horn by bundling horse hairs, gluing them together with a matrix of regenerated silk to mimic the collagenous properties of authentic rhino horn.

Rhinos are often poached for their horn, which buyers believe can cure health problems from hangovers to cancer.

Persistent poaching and habitat loss has led to a decline in the world’s rhino population — according to conservation organization Save the Rhino, 892 of the animals were killed in Africa in 2018.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), there are an estimated 20,000 white rhinos, 5,000 black rhinos and 3,500 greater one-horn rhinos left alive. There are believed to be fewer than 80 Sumatran rhinos, and fewer than 68 Javan rhinos — both considered to be critically endangered species.

The international trade in rhino horn has been banned since 1977, regulated by the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), but individual countries determine their own laws that allow or prohibit its sale domestically, according to Save the Rhino.

Original photo as published by Edition.cnn.com: Rhinos are often poached for their horn, which some buyers believe can cure health problems.

In research published Friday in the journal Scientific Reports, the Oxford scientists said they were able to fabricate samples that looked and felt like real rhino horn — something they hope will allow for “credible fakes” to flood the market, confusing consumers and diminishing demand for the product.

Researchers said analytical studies showed the fake horsehair horn demonstrated similar composition and properties to natural horn, which grows from a tightly packed tuft of hair on the animal’s nose.

‘It appears from our investigation that it is rather easy as well as cheap to make a bio-inspired hornlike material that mimics the rhino’s extravagantly expensive tuft of nose hair,” co-lead author Professor Fritz Vollrath, from the University of Oxford’s Department of Zoology, said in a statement.

“We leave it to others to develop this technology further with the aim to confuse the trade, depress prices and thus support rhino conservation,” he added.

Vollrath told CNN that by demonstrating how easily fake rhino horn can be created, he hoped potential consumers would think twice about buying rhino horn for huge sums.

“What I am hoping is that the story gets out that rhino horn is not some magical substance — it is hair, glued together with sticky stuff that comes out of the nose. It’s nothing special, nothing magical,” Vollrath told CNN.

However, the research has met with skepticism from conservationists.

WWF told CNN that it did not believe the marketing of fake or synthetic horn would reduce levels of rhino poaching.

“One of the known characteristics of the Asian consumer markets since the poaching crisis erupted in 2007 has been the high quantity of fake horn in circulation,” a WWF spokesperson told CNN in a statement.

“In spite of this rhino poaching levels have risen relentlessly, because many buyers still prefer the real product and will take some trouble to acquire it from sources they deem trustworthy.”

“A number of developers are working on creating a synthetic product, which, it is claimed, would be ‘biologically identical’ to real horn. This raises the obvious question as to how enforcement personnel could tell the two products apart, especially if they are both marketed as powder or as an ingredient in other medicinal or manufactured products,” the spokesperson said.

Cathy Dean, CEO of Save the Rhino, told CNN that flooding the market with fake product would hamper law enforcement efforts to clamp down on the trade in rhino horn.

“If you catch somebody who is trafficking a real rhino horn, they could plead a line of defense that they thought they were carrying a horsehair horn — it would make the whole prosecution process very, very difficult,” Dean told CNN.

Dean told CNN that the invention wouldn’t deter those seeking the full, intact rhino horns often bought by wealthy individuals.

“The main driver of the poaching prices is very wealthy businessmen willing to splash out large sums of money to buy a whole horn which they would then display,” Dean said.

“They want the real thing, they want to demonstrate that they have the power, the wealth, the connections to be able to buy this illicit product,” she added.