Rhino and elephant death toll spikes in 2013
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Rhino and elephant death toll spikes in 2013

One month ago I posted about how 2013 has gotten off to a particularly bloody start in terms of elephant and rhino killings. One month in and things have just gotten worse and worse.

A non-poaching incident, but nonetheless cruel and criminal, the well-publicized case of 14 pygmy elephants which were killed in Malaysian Borneo (possibly by poison) shined the torch on what logging companies will do in order to remove any obstacles to their environmentally destructive practices.

Meanwhile, rhinos are dropping like flies.

In India, poachers killed 5 rhinos with AK-47 automatic rifles in the northern state of Assam over the past month. Last year the major killer of one-horned rhinos in Assam was flooding. Floods killed 28 rhinos between June and September. So far this year Assam’s national parks have already lost 29 to poachers.

A senior wildlife crime expert was quoted in the Times of India:

Deaths in floods are part of the natural process. But poaching poses a major threat now. Yes, there is soaring international demand for rhino horns, but we cannot allow the animals to be killed with regularity and impunity.

Africa continues to be the main source of illegal rhino horns, which are destined for East and Southeast Asian markets due to the erroneous belief that powdered horn can function as medicine or an aphrodisiac. Rhino horn has been banned in China since 2003 and significant progress has been made in the control of illegal importation. Today it is Vietnam and not China which the majority (roughly two thirds) of rhino horn is destined for, though China still accounts for much of the remaining third. Part of that has to do with availability.

From China Dialogue:

These days, however, there is much less horn to consume. At the beginning of the 20th century there were 500,000 rhinos across Africa and Asia. By 1970 there were just 70,000. Today, fewer than 29,000 rhinos survive in the wild.

Campaigns in both China (one notably featuring retired basketball superstar Yao Ming) and Vietnam aim to educate people on the inefficacy of rhino horn as a medicine and the abhorrent suffering that poaching causes to rhinos and elephants. The message is concentrating on young people, as the older generations are more culturally conditioned to accept traditional cures.

If the demand drops, so will the poaching. Unfortunately, so far this year 82 rhinos have been poached from national parks in South Africa according to the country’s Department of Environmental Affairs, 61 of them in Kruger National Park.


Grazing rhinos, Kruger National Park, South Africa, pic: Gerard Marull Paretas (Flickr CC)