THE war against poaching was placed at the forefront during a talk by Green Scorpions director, Div de Villiers, at the Marjorie Courtenay Latimer Hall at the East London Museum on Monday evening.
The evening was hosted by Rotary Arcadia with De Villiers sharing successes and disappointments in the field.
De Villiers, relaying details of the brutality of rhino poaching, said the incidents had increased as the demand for rhino horn grew. “In the 1970s, the world boasted a healthy 65000 black rhino. Today there are only 5000 left, with the bulk of the population in South Africa.
“The white rhino is a bit better off, with a population of 20000 in the world. 90% of that population is in South Africa.”
Before 2008, the Eastern Cape had not lost a rhino to poaching. Last year the province lost 12 rhinos, a significant decrease from the 19 lost to poaching in 2016. “I can not describe the feeling when you first arrive at the scene and see this massive carcass of what was once a magnificent creature.”
More than 6000 rhino have been poached for their horns in South Africa since 2008. This is believed to be because of the spike in Vietnamese demand for rhino horn.The various myths surrounding rhino horn remedies, medicines and treatments in China and Vietnam are said to be the main factors informing the growing demand for rhino horn.
“In 2008, a Vietnamese politician claimed that she had been cured of cancer by drinking powdered rhino horn. We believe that this had a huge role to play in the increased number of rhinos lost to poaching.”
Despite there being no scientific proof to the myths surrounding rhino horn and its supposed healing elements, the demand is high.
“The saddest and probably most selfish myth is that rhino horn can cure a hangover. The Vietnamese youth mix powdered rhino horn in their drinks on a night out,” De Villiers said.
Poachers had become more brutal and more organised as time passed, making investigations and arrests difficult. As incidents grew, so did the expertise of poachers. Starting out with AK47s, poachers moved on to using M99 darting which tranquilises the animal, but does not kill it. The horn is then cut off and the rhino is left to bleed to death.
“We are fighting a war, a difficult war. More often than not organised crime syndicates infiltrate the police, government, anywhere they can in order to get the information they need.”
He said pregnant cows make for an easy target and are often killed only weeks before they are due to give birth. Young calves are often hacked and killed as poachers need a speedy escape.
“They are brutal, and put these animals through an unfathomable amount of pain,” De Villiers said.
Law enforcement, conservation efforts and anti-poaching units have intensified throughout South Africa, with the use of anti-poaching dogs yielding hundreds of arrests each year.
De Villiers urged the public to create awareness and to support campaigns, particularly the Wilderness Foundation, in an effort to fight the scourge of rhino poaching.
For information on the various campaigns and how you can help, visit the Wilderness Foundation website at www.wildernessfoundation.co.za