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    The Rhino Poaching Crisis Is So Bad, the South African Army Has Stepped In

    Written by

    Derek Mead


    At the end of 2011, headlines decrying a record year for rhino poaching were prevalent, with 448 animals killed in South Africa, a large leap over the 333 killed in 2010. It only gets worse: This year, the poaching epidemic has reached crisis levels, with 570 animals killed in South Africa so far.

    From IOL News:

    At the weekend, eight rhinos died when poachers hit a reserve in North West. The Hawks [a South African anti-corruption investigative force)] arrested three men – one a park ranger – at their homes in Lethabo township near Brits on Tuesday.

    The attack prompted North West Premier Thandi Modise to ask that the army step in as conservation bodies had neither the resources nor the skill to stop the massacre and extinction of one of South Africa’s Big Five.

    According to Bandile Mkhize, the head of Ezemvelo KZN, a nature reserve in South Africa’s North West province that has seen 58 rhinos killed this year, the reserve is also discussing applying the army’s technological assets to help fight what’s turning into a rhino war.

    “We have reintroduced a helicopter patrol at Hluhluwe/iMfolozi Park with a plan for expansion into other protected areas," Mkhize told IOL. “A highly qualified information network for covert operations has been appointed and, through structured investigation between Ezemvelo and organised-crime units, we have managed to arrest two syndicates in Zululand.”

    We’ve already seen the elephant poaching industry become militarized, as ivory prices rocket high enough to attract the attention of various militant groups throughout central Africa. And, of course, the whole animal trafficking industry has boomed in recent years thanks to the sophisticated distribution networks provided by organized crime. The wildlife trade is looking more and more like the drug trade every day, with two important distinctions. First, there’s less money for funding anti-smuggling efforts, and much less political support. Second, and more worryingly, is the simple fact that while you can plant and harvest enough weed and cocaine to satisfy demand, the dwindling population of rhinoceroses will never recover if people keep demanding horn.

    Photo: Reuters

    Follow Derek Mead on Twitter: @derektmead.