July 4, 2011

Rhino Poaching Continues In South Africa: WWF

South Africa, home to the world's largest rhinoceros population, lost nearly 200 of the magnificent beasts in the first half of 2011, according to the World Wildlife Fund International (WWF).

At the current pace of poaching, the number of rhinos slaughtered this year may exceed the record 333 killed last year, the group said in a statement.

Rhinos in Kruger National Park remain to be the hardest hit. The world famous safari destination has lost 126 rhinos to poaching this year and 146 in 2010.

"Poaching is being undertaken almost without exception by sophisticated criminals, sometimes hunting from helicopters and using automatic weapons," said Joseph Okori, WWF's African rhino program coordinator.

"South Africa is fighting a war against organized crime that risks reversing the outstanding conservation gains it made over the past century," Okori said.

Also this year, South Africa has made 123 poaching arrests, with six convictions, said WWF.

"We cannot allow poaching to proliferate across rhino range countries," said Okori. "Swift prosecutions of wildlife crimes and strict sentences for perpetrators will serve as a deterrent to potential criminals. Poachers should be shown no leniency."

"We are pleased to see more successful convictions of poachers," according to Morne du Plessis, head of WWF South Africa.

"Applying strict penalties for wildlife crimes such as rhino poaching will demonstrate the South African government's commitment to maintaining this important part of the country's heritage," du Plessis added.

Swaziland, which borders Africa, lost its first rhino to poaching in 20 years in June, raising concerns that poaching of the animals may be spreading. Rhinos are mainly targeted for their horns, which are used in traditional oriental medicines or as an aphrodisiac. They are also used as dagger handles in Yemen and Oman.

WWF opposes the granting of bail to poaching suspects due to the severity of their crimes and their flight risk.

"The poaching surge shows no sign of abating," says Tom Milliken, Elephant & Rhino Program Coordinator with TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring group. "Only a concerted international enforcement pincer movement, at both ends of the supply and demand chain, can hope to nip this rhino poaching crisis in the bud."

South Africa is home to about 19,400 white rhinos and 1,678 black rhinos (70 percent of the world population), according to the parks department. About 12,000 of the white rhinos live in the Kruger National Park, which has a 186-mile-long border with Mozambique, giving poachers and easy escape route.

The United Nations' Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species estimated in 2009 that the global rhino poaching issue was at a 15-year high.


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