Record 588 rhinos are killed by poachers in South Africa this year to 'fuel demand from wealthy Chinese,' say officials
More rhinos have been killed in South Africa this year than at any time since the colonial period
The government has announced plans to deploy troops to wildlife parksPoachers sell the animals' horns for use in traditional medicine
19:22 GMT, 28 November 2012
The South African government has announced plans to deploy armed troops into its wildlife parks in a bid to protect the country’s rhinoceroses from poachers targeting the animals’ famous horns.
The plans – which could see helicopter gunships patrol game parks’ skies and soldiers wearing night vision goggles on the ground – were announced as new figures show that more rhinos have been killed in South Africa this year than at any time since the colonial period.
So far this year, a total of 588 of the magnificent beasts have been killed in South Africa by poachers working for Far Eastern crime syndicates which sell the animals’ horns for use in traditional medicine.
Slaughtered: The carcass of a 24-year-old rhino cow at Finfoot Lake Reserve who was among eight slaughtered by poachers this month as figures showed more rhinos have been killed this year than any time since the colonial period
Most of the horns end up in being used in traditional medicine in China or Vietnam, where it is believed they are good for curing many types of ailments from cancer to impotency.
The 558 rhino killed so far this year is far more than the 448 killed in South Africa throughout the whole of 2011 and almost 4,500 per cent more than the 13 rhino killed in South Africa just five years ago.
Wildlife experts say that the poaching explosion has become so serious in South Africa – which has around 22,000 rhino and is home to 80 per cent of the world’s rhino population – that the white and black rhino species are in risk of become severely endangered.
They warn that a tipping point has been reached as more rhinos are now dying than are being born.
'Cures' ailments: Poachers in South Africa are working for Far Eastern crime syndicates which sell the animals' horns for use in traditional medicine
Poaching explosion: The carcasses of a mother rhino and her calf rot after being killed by poachers as the amount of animals being killed has risen so much that white and black rhino species are in risk of become severely endangered
Earlier this month one poaching gang managed to kill eight rhino in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. The animals, which included one calf, were shot before their horns – worth 60,000 a kilo on the black market – were brutally hacked from their bodies.
‘The animals were also mutilated for their eyes and ears, while one female had her genitalia cut off,’ the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s director Jason Bell said.
‘The numbers of rhinos being poached for their horns grows and grows, with the numbers of rhinos killed in 2012 already almost double that what it was two years ago with most of those being in killed in the Kruger National Park, arguably wildlife’s best secured habitat.’
Deaths doubled: A baby rhino runs in Kruger National Park where the most animals are being killed even though it is arguably their 'best secured habitat'
It was in response to these killings that the political leader of the South African region, which is home to most of the country’s rhino announced a plan to mobilise the army.
‘The cruelty and brutality against the rhino, as symbol of our ecology and rich heritage, has gone too far,’ North West premier Thandi Modise said.
‘Recent incidents dictate for extraordinary measures to protect our tourism and biodiversity.’
Ms Modise did not explain how the military would be used but previously mooted plans have included using soldiers with night vision goggles patrol the game parks after dark as well as having machine gun toting helicopters in the skies.
Proponents of the extreme measure point out that the poaching syndicates are themselves well-armed, well-funded and well organised.
Many poaching gangs themselves fly into the game parks by helicopter at night. They then use night vision equipment to either shoot the rhino at near point blank range or to tranquilise it before hacking it to death with machetes.
Rhino horn is made of keratin, a tough protein found in human fingernails.
There is no medical evidence to support beliefs that the horn is good for reducing ill-health.
While there are no reliable statistics to back it up, it is thought that the number of rhino killed in recent years may have been surpassed by hunters during southern Africa’s colonial era when, at one point, there were only around 3,000 rhino left alive.
'Gone too far': The North West premier Thandi Modise says that recent brutality toward rhinos has led to 'extraordinary measures to protect our tourism and biodiversity'