A black rhino in Tanzania. Photo credit: Barbara von Hoffmann/ vonhoffmannphotography.com
A record 1,215 rhinos were poached in South Africa in 2014, according to figures recently released by the country’s Department of Environmental Affairs. The 2014 figure represents a 21 percent increase in poaching from the previous year, when 1,004 rhinos were killed. The majority of South Africa’s rhinos continue to be killed in the country’s premier park, Kruger National Park, where the government spent the last quarter of last year relocating many of the rhinos to an intensive protection zone and secure areas outside of the park.
“It is a desperate situation but not hopeless, and we are seeing successes in a number of areas,” says Dr. Philip Muruthi, African Wildlife Foundation’s senior director of conservation science. “There are more resources, manpower and awareness, as well as national and international muscle, being leveraged against this insidious industry. There is every reason to believe that this could and should be the year when we see the numbers go down.”
African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) has undertaken a number of initiatives as part of its US$10 million Urgent Response Fund to combat wildlife poaching and trafficking. Support from the Fund underwrote the purchase of an anti-poaching helicopter in South Africa’s Sabi Sand Reserve, a 153,000-acre reserve that is home to an undisclosed number of rhinos and borders a 50 km-unfenced section of the Kruger National Park. Coordinated foot and aerial patrols on the reserve in the last year have decreased rhino poaching significantly.
“The excellent anti-poaching operations at Sabi Sand and resulting decrease in rhino poaching show that when the right amount of resources and manpower are applied, we can beat the poachers,” says Muruthi.
AWF has also helped enhance security around populations of the critically endangered black rhino in a reserve in South Africa’s Eastern Cape and at an intensive protection zone in Kenya’s Tsavo West National Park. AWF’s purchase of motorcycles and other equipment for the Ol Pejeta Conservancy is helping to protect not only the largest population of black rhinos in Kenya but also a growing population of southern white rhinos and the last four breeding northern white rhinos in the world. To stop the trafficking of and demand for rhino horn in Africa, AWF is working with a canine specialist group to install trained sniffer dog units at key ports and airports, and working with partners to produce celebrity public service announcements for the Chinese and Vietnamese markets, where rhino horn is believed to cure a number of ailments, from cancer to headaches.
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