Rhinoceros poaching in South Africa and Zimbabwe has skyrocketed this summer. Ex-military men turned poachers have organized sophisticated crime rings, and they’re killing rhinos in large numbers for their horns. Editor’s Note: Some of the photos in this gallery are graphic. Photo: International Rhino Foundation
The poachers helicopter in to national forests or private game preserves to kill rhinos. They often carry automatic weapons, wear night vision goggles and use chainsaws to cut off the rhinos’ horns. If caught, the poachers are not afraid to open fire on game wardens. Photo: South Africa National Parks Authorities
“Perhaps it is no longer appropriate to refer to this spate of illegal killing of rhinos as poaching given the levels of sophistication, violence, precision and the money behind it. We are dealing with unprecedented high levels of organized crime which the police and all security agencies are helping to defeat,” David Mabunda, executive director of South African National Parks, wrote in July. “We have worked hard as a country, to bring this species back from the brink of extinction and we will continue to defend it even if we become the last man standing.” Photo: International Rhino Foundation
In South Africa, 186 rhinos have been poached this year, and conservation officials estimate that 300 animals will be poached by year-end. This would more than double the number of poached rhinos last year and mark a 15-year high. Population estimates on the number of white rhinos in Africa range from 11,000 to 19,000. There are only about 1,600 to 3,000 black rhinos left on the continent. The photo shows empty shell casings left behind by poachers. Photo: International Rhino Foundation
The increase in poaching has been blamed on a lack of funding for law enforcement agencies. This is especially a problem in Zimbabwe where only 3 percent of rhino poaching crimes end in a conviction, according to a report by Traffic, a global wildlife trade monitoring network, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Photo by: Chris Eason ®
The poaching problem has gotten so serious that private anti-poaching security firms are sprouting up all over South Africa. These firms use many traditional military tactics. Photo by: Frankfurt zoological society
Most firms train their men for up to a year before they are put in the field. While on duty, the men usually operate in pairs and live in the bush for two weeks at a time. In some regions of Africa, private security firms and conservation wardens are ordered to shoot poachers on sight. Photo: International Rhino Foundation
By July, 47 poaching suspects, among them foot-soldiers and high-level dealers, had been arrested in South Africa, according to National Geographic. Photo: International Rhino Foundation
This is a rhino protection unit that protects Way Kambas National Park in Indonesia. They are in charge of patrolling the park, deactivating traps and snares and arresting poachers. Photo: International Rhino Foundation
The increase in poaching has been driven by a demand for rhino horn in East Asia, where it is used in traditional medicines to cure everything from impotency to arthritis to devil possession. China and Vietnam have been using powder from rhino horn in medicines for 2,000 years, but rhino horn consists of melanin and keratin, and most medical experts agree that it has no real medical value. Photo: Valentina Storti
Anger among South Africans boiled over this summer as more and more rhinos were poached for their horns. One South African game park owner went so far as to poison his rhinos’ horns. He did this so if anyone poached his rhinos and used the horns for medicine, the person would get sick and possibly even die. The owner was so enraged with the poaching situation that he poisoned the horns even after his lawyers told him he could be on the hook for murder if someone died from the poison. Photo by: Chris Eason
Rhino horns are also made into ornamental daggers called jambiyas. Jambiyas are popular in Yemen and North Africa, and their demand boomed in the 1970s fueling black market trade. This decreased the black rhinoceros population by more than 90 percent between 1970 and 1992.
A jambiya hilt made from rhino horn can cost more than $15,000 dollars. The president of Yemen is said to own a jambiya worth $1 million. Photo: International Rhino Foundation
The rhinos are just as valuable alive. Tourism is crucial to the African economy, and many people travel to the continent specifically to see big species like elephants and rhinos. Photo by: Ikiwaner
Rhinos have always held a special place in the heart of safari hunters, as well. Both Teddy Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway chased rhinos in the glory days of African big-game hunting. Rhinos are also part of the Big Five (the five big-game African species that are the most difficult to hunt on foot), along with elephants, cape buffalo, lions and leopards.
Because of a decrease in their population, black rhinos are no longer legally hunted in Africa. In recent years, white rhinos have made a steady comeback and can be hunted in certain regions. Big game hunters flood the African economy with money (and provide many villages with tons of meat) each year. But the excessive poaching has threatened the white rhino comeback. Photo: Youtube
In February, South Africa declared an immediate moratorium on trading products made from rhino horns. The government also limited the number of rhinos a hunter could take per year to one animal. Previously, only one’s disposable income limited the number of rhinos he could take in a year. Pictured is Jackson Kamwi, Senior Rhino Monitor for the Lowveld Rhino Project in Zimbabwe. Photo: International Rhino Foundation
But even before the limit, a relatively small number of rhinos were killed by big game hunters. According to the Rhino Resource Center, 820 rhinos have been killed legally by hunters since 1968.
That averages out to about 19 rhinos per year, compared to the several hundred that are killed by poachers each year. Photo: International Rhino Foundation
One solution to the poaching epidemic on private game preserves has been to cut the horns off of rhinos, so poachers have no reason to kill them.
However, this can be a risky option. If poachers see several rhinos with cut horns, they will assume that the horns are stashed nearby. A game manager who cuts and keeps rhino horns has a good chance of being ransacked, or even killed, by poachers.
This rhino was caught by poachers and had its horn chain-sawed off. But somehow, the rhino managed to survive the encounter. It’s the only known case of a rhino surviving after having its horn cut by poachers. Photo: Youtube
The Sumaratan rhino (pictured here) is also a cause for concern. There are only a few hundred wild Sumaratan rhinos left in Indonesia and Malaysia. Photo: International Rhino Foundation
Like the Sumaratan rhino, the Javana rhino is on the verge of extinction and there are estimated to be fewer than 100 left in Indonesia and Malaysia. Photo: International Rhino Foundation
But all hope is not lost for rhinos. The greater one-horn rhino has made a significant comeback in Nepal and India after those countries were able to crack down on their poaching problems. Hopefully, South Africa and Zimbabwe will have the same success and rhino populations will be allowed to rebound. Photo by: Dhilung Kirat