Rhino Crisis Round Up: South Africa's Record-Breaking Rhino Death Toll & More [Warning: Graphic]

A sobering media release from WWF has confirmed that the number of rhinos killed in South Africa during the first 10 months of 2011 has already exceeded last year’s total of 333.

© naturepl.com/Mark Carwardine/WWF

South Africa’s rhino death toll now stands at a record 341.

The total includes 16 critically endangered black rhinos. A whopping 197 of the 341 killings occurred in South Africa’s famed Kruger National Park.

Global slaughter

This grim news comes less than ten days after the Javan rhino subspecies (Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus) was declared extinct. The last individual was found dead in 2010, with a gunshot wound and her horn removed.

WWF’s Asian rhino expert, Dr. A. Christy Williams, explained that the false notion of rhino horn usefulness as a miracle cure for cancer is driving the global slaughter.

The unfounded rumour that rhino horn can cure cancer most likely sealed the fate of the last Javan rhino in Vietnam. This same problem is now threatening other rhino populations across Africa and South Asia.

Rhino horn and ivory trade expert Dr. Tom Milliken of TRAFFIC pointed out that rhino populations in both Africa and Asia are threatened by the same demand for rhino horn.

It’s tragic that the Javan rhino has been wiped out in Vietnam by the same forces that are driving rhino poaching in Africa. This is the ultimate wake-up call for the Vietnamese government to turn aggressively on its internal rhino horn market.

Not only are South Africa’s rhinos targeted in national parks and on private farms, the country’s legal trade in rhinos is serving as a smokescreen for laundering rhino horns for the illegal market.

WWF noted that loopholes in South Africa’s trophy hunting permit process and rhino horn stockpile management are being exploited, and that “improvements are needed”.

Shared responsibility

Countries which are involved in supplying rhino horn, transporting rhino horn, and consuming rhino horn share responsibility for the rhino crisis.

Dr. Carlos Drews, Global Species Programme Director at WWF said international efforts to crack down on the rhino horn trade need to be stepped up.

Since armed protection for rhinos in South African national parks is strong, poaching syndicates are likely to shift to countries with weaker enforcement power, including possibly Asian countries that may be caught off-guard.

To break the illegal trade chain, governments in source, transit and consumer countries must all scale up their efforts.

Unfortunately, South Africa appears to be sending mixed messages about halting rhino horn demand.

Although considering “stricter provisions” on rhino hunting to curb loophole abuse, a spokesperson for South Africa’s Water and Environmental Affairs Ministry claimed that the Department is also looking at a “legal rhino horn trade” scheme (which would essentially validate the myth that rhino horn is a miracle cure for cancer).

© Martin Harvey / WWF-Canon

There was no mention of the potential effect of China’s multimillion-dollar rhino horn “business” on rhino horn demand, or further explanation regarding South Africa’s role as the supplier of at least 103 live rhinos to China since 2007.

Rhino calf killed in Namibia

A baby rhino was found snared in Namibia’s Huab Conservancy, with the tiny horns hacked off.

According to The Namibian, tracks found near the body showed that the mother had stayed with her baby for several days.

Bernd Brell from the Save the Rhino Trust was quoted as saying that the killers attempted to “hide the evidence”.

… the poachers removed the horns of the calf before they cut of its hind leg to hide the evidence of a snare. Then they split open the carcass’s belly from the throat to the back in order to attract scavengers, in the hope that the animal would vanish and no sign of poaching would remain.

This was the first reported rhino murder in the Kunene Region in 17 years.

Javan rhino survey

Regarding Asian rhinos, there is concern that the last surviving population of Javan rhinos may contain only a handful of females.

Out of 17 rhinos recorded via camera trap in the eastern half of Ujung Kulon National Park, four were breeding females, according to The Jakarta Globe.

Recently, the video cameras were moved to the western half of the park, which is “more remote”.

It is hoped that additional female Javan rhinos will be found; the results could be known in a few weeks.

Learn more about the extinction of the Javan rhino in Vietnam at “Javan Rhino Declared Extinct in Vietnam“.

Hope for Javan rhinos

However, there is hope for Javan rhinos in Indonesia, thanks to Operation Javan Rhino.

The International Rhino Foundation (IRF) along with an international team of partners, is working to expand the useable habitat for Javan rhinos in UKNP by creating the 4,000 hectare Javan Rhino Study and Conservation Area (JRSCA).

We are doing this by constructing small bridges, an electric fence, and a patrol road; eradicating invasive species which have taken over a good portion of the habitat; planting rhino food plants; providing a water supply and saltlick; and constructing additional guard posts. The continued survival of the Javan rhino depends on their population increasing in numbers as rapidly as possible, and in spreading the population out so that ‘all the eggs are not in one basket’.

Find out how you can help Operation Javan Rhino here.

Source materials and photos provided by WWF and TRAFFIC (“Rhino horn demand leads to record poaching”). Photo #1 © naturepl.com/Mark Carwardine/WWF; #2 © 11-03- Martin Harvey/WWF-Canon

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