April 17, 2009

Zimbabwe Rhino Threatened By Increased Poaching

A rise in poaching in Zimbabwe has raised concern among conservationists for the survival of endangered rhinos in the region.

Raoul du Toit, head of southern Zimbabwe's Lowveld Rhino Trust, told the Associated Press that the rhinos are sought after by gangs who sell their horns to be used for traditional medicine in Asia and ceremonial dagger handles in the Middle East.

Established in 1991 under the provision of the World Wildlife Fund, the Lowveld Rhino Trust (LRT) has worked to increase the population of the endangered black rhino through management and anti-poaching activities.

"Numbers are up from 42 to 390 despite the political conditions in the country and the population now accounts for 80 percent of Zimbabwe's total population, making it of huge continental, and indeed global importance," according to the LRT's Web site.

"However, since 2000 the Lowveld's wildlife industry has been strongly challenged by land reform policy and by consequences of the "Ëœfast-track resettlement program', which has had negative effects on wildlife operations through unplanned settlement, foreclosure of some key wildlife corridors, poaching and habitat loss," said the LRT, which monitors 755,000 hectares of protected lands.

Save the Rhino executive director Cathy Dean told the AP that the overall rhino population has dropped from about 830 in 2007 to 740 at the end of 2008 despite a stable birth rate.

The organization said at least 90 rhino were poached in 2008 "“ about twice the amount as in 2007 "“ and conservationists have counted 18 dead rhinos so far this year.

The group also noted a rise in poaching of zebra for their hides, which were smuggled through Zimbabwe along with illegal diamonds, gold and other contraband.

Du Toit told the AP that the rhino poachers were people with "cars, cell phones and expensive lawyers," adding that poaching "increased because of our lack of ability to investigate, higher market prices and the growing Asian footprint in southern Africa."

"The repercussions for the country's international image and the economic implications are a lot more serious than the politicians and the ministers realize," he said.

Conservationists are planning to relocate about 60 rhino away from regions with high poaching activity, Du Toit said.


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