Rhino Crisis Round Up: 200 Rhinos Slaughtered in South Africa, Irish Gangs (& More)

Sobering news tops the Round Up this week: South Africa’s rhino death toll has reached a staggering 200 – and we’ve barely passed the halfway point for 2011.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) released an appalling figure of nearly 200 rhinos killed in South Africa, making 2011 the fourth year in a row that rhinos have been slaughtered in record numbers.

By mid-July of 2010, the death toll had reached 125. If efforts are not made to curb the onslaught, the number will likely overtake last year’s total of 333.

South Africa’s Kruger National Park has been hit hard: 126 of the 200 rhinos were gunned down inside this famous destination.


The killing of these iconic pachyderms is driven by the continued use of rhino horn in China and Vietnam, where rhino horn is a prized ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine.

However, there is no scientific evidence to support claims of rhino horn’s curative properties.

Transnational crime syndicates

To call what is happening in South Africa “poaching” may not be entirely accurate.

Rather, the rhino killings are “ordered” – like contract hits – and carried out by the foot soldiers of transnational crime syndicates.

These seasoned criminals are using automatic weapons, helicopters, and night vision equipment to conduct business.

Dr. Joseph Okori, WWF’s African Rhino Programme Coordinator, said that the assault by organized criminal networks has put South Africa’s rhino conservation successes in jeopardy.

South Africa has made 123 arrests for rhino crimes this year and convicted six people. In 2010, four convictions resulted from 165 arrests.

Swaziland suspects out on bail

Sadly, after enduring the losses of a mother rhino and her calf, Swaziland was hit with a third disappointment: The rhino killing suspects were granted bail. (Source: WWF).

Despite this development, it is important to note that the tragedy which struck last month was the first in nearly 20 years. Swaziland can still be proud of her admirable record of keeping rhinos safe from the scourge.

Namibia mystery solved

Last week, there were suspicions that a rhino had been murdered for its horns in Namibia.

However, investigators did not find any bullet wounds. They concluded that the rhino had likely died a natural death due to advanced age, and that the horns were stolen by someone who found the rhino already dead.

The bad news is that another pair of rhino horns entered the illegal market.

Warning issued by Europol

Following yet another rhino horn robbery (this time from the Brussels Natural History Museum), the European law enforcement agency Europol revealed that a mobile Organised Crime Group (OCG) of Irish origin is running this rhino horn racket.

This notorious Irish gang has been sourcing rhino horn from auction houses, museums, antique dealers, art galleries, private collectors and zoo displays.

Besides their involvement in the illegal rhino horn trade, the OCG members are active in tarmac fraud, drug trafficking, money laundering, and organized robberies.

Read more at Europol Advisory: Irish Organized Crime Network Targeting Rhino Horn.

Taking a stand for rhinos

Fortunately, there was some good news this week.

WWF has taken a stand for rhinos by opposing bail for rhino crimes.

WWF opposes the granting of bail to poaching suspects due to the gravity of their crimes and their high flight risk. Suspects at large continue to pose a threat to rhinos and can cause delays to judicial proceedings.

Not only that, the organization reminded the public that there is no scientific basis for the belief that rhino horn is a remedy.

Rhino poaching is being fueled by demand for horns in Asia, where they are highly valued for traditional medicine, although rhino horn has no scientifically proven healing properties.

In 1983, it was a study commissioned by WWF and the IUCN which concluded that rhino horn had no medicinal properties, and that consuming rhino horn has the same health benefits as chewing one’s own fingernails. (In other words, no health benefits whatsoever.)

Since then, at least two additional studies have confirmed the results: There is no medicinal benefit to ingesting rhino horn.

(In fact, consuming rhino horn is more likely to be hazardous to one’s health.)

More information on Planetsave about the rhino crisis:

Image #1, #5 © iStockphoto.com; #2, #3 © Saving Rhinos LLC; #4 Wikimedia Commons (caption added by author).

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