Poachers kill 750 rhinos since 2000

Jeffrey Gogo Climate Story
More than 750 rhinos have been killed by commercial poachers in Zimbabwe since 2000, according to data from the International Rhino Foundation (IRF).

The rhino is targeted for its horn, which sells for tens of thousands of dollars in the underground, illegal wildlife markets, particularly in Asia, where dubious cultural beliefs drive demand.

In an article published in the African Conservation Telegraph, local wildlife conservationists Susie Ellis and Kelly Russo detail the history of rhino conservation in Zimbabwe, narrating the see-saw in rhino figures over the years and how the IRF has helped protect one of the most critically endangered animal species in the world.

By 1993, runaway poaching had left the black rhino population in Zimbabwe at just 370, the authors say. After intensive anti-poaching efforts commenced in 1996, populations began to recover, reaching 435 individuals.

Black rhinos now number around 475 animals, a remarkable recovery considering Zimbabwe’s erstwhile political and economic crises, Ellis and Russo said.

But since the turn of the millennium, things have taken a turn for the worse.

The authors stated: “As Zimbabwe declined in the early 2000s, poaching was initially a matter of survival and subsistence.

Later, however, poaching became a high-stakes, organised endeavour, implicating Government officials, foreign workers and diplomats, and criminal networks.”

It is a sweeping statement, but we have seen how in recent years’ poachers have switched on to tightly controlled substances such as cyanide (used to poison watering holes) as a new method for killing both the rhino and elephant.

By resorting to cyanide, poachers avoid the risk of a gunshot being overheard by rangers, attracting unsolicited attention.

Founded in 1991 “by a group of dedicated people outraged by the black rhino killing taking place in Africa, particularly in Zimbabwe,” the International Rhino Foundation has worked to bolster rhino protection in the country through a variety of anti-poaching activities.

Ellis and Russo explained that through the efforts of the IRF, “poaching levels (have) dramatically declined and black rhino populations began to stabilise and eventually increase.”

IRF’s longest-running Africa programme focuses on rhino protection and monitoring through Zimbabwe’s Lowveld Rhino Trust (LRT), led by Raoul du Toit. Zimbabwe holds the world’s fourth largest black rhino population after South Africa, Namibia, and Kenya.

The LRT, founded in 1991, safeguards wildlife on private and communal lands in Zimbabwe’s southeast, the authors detailed.

Du Toit has since the 1980s worked with other rhino lovers, creating in the parched lowveld private conservancies (Save Valley, Bubye Valley and Malilangwe), which were populated with the rhino according to Ellis and Russo, the project built up the black rhino population in that region from four percent of the national total in 1990 to 89 percent at the end of 2017 (about 8 percent of the continental total).

“While unplanned occupancy that commenced during Zimbabwe’s “fast-track” resettlement programme continues to destroy rhino habitat in Save Valley, the available range in lowveld conservancies remains enough to carry more than twice the current populations of black and white rhino,” the article stated.

“The LRT’s activities help maintain the growth of large populations of both species of rhinos, while also tackling immediate species conservation needs (monitoring, management, protection, and community engagement, strategic translocations, and support for anti-poaching, informer systems, legal actions against poachers, etc),” it added.

Without community buy-in, conservation will barely make it across the finishing line. So, the Lowveld Rhino Trust has in the past 15 years operated a Rhino Conservation Awareness Program in 145 primary schools within the Save and Bubye Valley Conservancies’ buffer zones.

Students engage into competitive animal quiz. In return for a community’s successfully conserving rhinos, each school receives supplies, including textbooks.

Going forward, the LRT is to continue “bringing together experts in anti-poaching and law enforcement, habitat protection, population genetics, animal translocation, rhino breeding, and veterinary care . . . creating a worldwide collaborative network with the knowledge and resources needed to safeguard these magnificent species.”

Wildlife trafficking is now a multi-billion-dollar industry. Worldwide, $10 billion worth of wildlife and wildlife products are traded illegally each year.

The major source markets of illegal ivory in Africa are South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania.

God is faithful.

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