By Dr. Becker
The Department of Environmental Affairs in South Africa is planning to evacuate approximately 500 black and white rhinos from Kruger National Park to protect the animals from poachers who hunt them illegally for their horns.
According to Edna Molewa, South Africa’s environment minister:
“Relocations from the Kruger National Park and the creation of rhino strongholds could allow the total rhino population size of South Africa to grow.”
Over 80 percent of Africa’s rhino population resides in South Africa. Rhino killings have increased from a total of 13 in 2007 to over 1,000 in 2013, despite the presence of soldiers in Kruger Park, a huge South African nature preserve. As of mid-August this year, more than 630 rhinos had been killed, with over 400 of those in Kruger.
Rhinoceros horns, which are made of the same material as human fingernails, are in high demand in Asia, especially Vietnam, where people believe the horns help cure cancer and hangovers. They are also considered a symbol of wealth.
Rhino Relocation Is Time Consuming and Costly
It is estimated that perhaps only 8,400 white rhinos and 2,000 black rhinos remain in Kruger Park, which has been harder hit by poachers than other parks.
Evacuated animals will be sent to other state-owned parks, private parks, communal areas, and neighboring countries. The plan is to capture about six to eight rhinos a day during the cooler months of the year. The animals can weigh a ton or more, and relocation is expensive. Each move requires locating and darting (tranquilizing) the animals from helicopters. Authorities spend about $2,000 to track and capture each rhino. The cost to transport the animal is additional.
South Africa has relocated 1,450 rhinos from Kruger Park in the past 15 years, but the most recent plan to move 500 animals will be the largest single effort to date.
Rhino Horns Worth More Than Gold?
Unfortunately, while evacuation makes it more difficult for poachers to find rhinos, there is always a threat of illegal hunters in the areas the animals are moved to. According to Julian Rademeyer, author of a book on rhino poaching called Killing for Profit:
"You're dealing with communities where there are very few opportunities, where corruption is rife, places that are steady recruitment grounds. The social problems that are helping to foster this situation and that are providing poor people that serve as poachers... aren't going to go away."
In China and Vietnam, rhino horns are worth an estimated street value of $65,000 per kilogram (about 2.2 pounds), which is more than both platinum and gold. To support planned conservation efforts, the South African government will also impose tougher penalties for poaching.