Molewa announced various measures to address the problem in Kruger Park, including bringing in an additional 150 field rangers; increasing military presence in the park, enhanced intelligence gathering and strengthening the border between Massingir and Komatipoort.

"Most of the poachers in the Hoedspruit reserves near Kruger National Park have been Mozambicans, but they are certainly not operating alone," says Tim Parker, a wildlife specialist and CEO of Game Ranch Management Services, which manages an anti-poaching unit at Blue Canyon Game Conservancy, one of about 40 private game reserves in the greater Hoedspruit area.

Description: Rhino Horn

“Like our fingernails, rhino horns are made up of keratin; the only difference is that human fingernails do not fetch US$60 000”

"At Blue Canyon, I've got a field ranger force that has undergone intensive training and all of whom are armed with semi-automatic firearms," says Parker. "This kind of unit is imperative. Over the course of last year, about 30 rhinos in the Hoedspruit area were lost to poaching."

The owners and managers of the private reserves in this area have banded to fight against rhino poaching. "The majority decided to dehorn the rhino, as we did at Blue Canyon in August and September last year - we got permits from our local conservation authority. Every horn is micro-chipped for identification purposes and placed in official safekeeping," says Parker In addition, an initiative called Rhino Revolution has been launched to raise funds through the sale of t-shirts and caps to support collective anti-poaching initiatives, including the formation of a 24-hour six-man reaction team.

The Rhino Rescue Project has taken horn protection a step further and is treating the horns on live rhino with eco-friendly organic compounds that are extremely toxic, but non-lethal, to humans. An indelible pink dye is also infused into the horn. This can clearly be seen inside a treated horn and remains visible even if the horn is ground to fine powder 'All animals in the initial sample are in excellent health," says the Rhino Rescue Project's founding member Hern. "The treatment was first administered on our reserve in 2010, and since then two cows have given birth to healthy calves. Another cow has fallen pregnant during this time. We have also re-tested the horns to establish distribution of the treatment inside the horn over time and to ensure that the treatment did not affect its overall health."

The Rhino Rescue Project horn treatment remains effective for approximately three to four years, after which re-administration would be required. "We are happy to say that not a single animal has been poached since administration of the treatment," adds Hern.

In a radical move, a group of private game ranchers are calling for the lifting of the CITES ban on the trade in rhino horn. They believe that if rhino horn is sold on the open market, it will destroy the illegal trade as legally stockpiled horn (that has been harvested to protect the rhino), will "flood" the market. However, legalizing the sale of rhino horn may have the opposite effect. Environmentalists say it will not stop the illegal poaching of rhino because there simply aren't enough rhino left in the world for the market to be 'flooded'.

Rhino bulls produce about 1kg of horn a year, females about 600g. One of South Africa's largest rhino ranchers, John Hume, has dehorned all his rhino. He is believed to have more than 500kg of white rhino horn registered with the Mpumalanga provincial government. The horns have been implanted with government-issued microchip identification and stored in safety deposit boxes at three banks around the country, waiting for trade to be legalized. Hume believes that rhino can be "farmed" for their horns, which take approximately five years to grow back to full size. This way, he says, it is possible to produce enough horn to meet increasing demand for the product, without further collateral damage.

TRAFFIC's Milliken is not convinced. "We really don't have a handle on what the demand out there is," he says. The reality is that there are not nearly enough rhino left in the world to test the market. Before we know it, they'll be extinct and we'll be left debating what should have been done.

Other Species At Risk

Many of our other animal species, including lion, leopard and shark, are being targeted by the East in particular for their so-called medicinal properties.

It is well known that China has a market for tiger parts, based on the myth that by ingesting a part of the tiger, one will inherit the strength and majesty of the animal.

Tiger-bone wine is also allegedly a cure for arthritis and rheumatism. To make the wine, a tiger's skeleton is soaked in a large vat of wine for an extended period. With so few tigers around, lions and leopards are being hunted instead. The demand for free-ranging lions and leopards is far higher than for their captive counterparts.

The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) suggests that already a significant number of leopards have been hunted illegally in South Africa. To address the trade threats, EWT's Carnivore Conservation Programme, in conjunction with the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), is in the process of implementing a project to assess the scale and impact of consumptive utilization of their body parts.

As for sharks, it is well known their fins have huge monetary value and are primarily sent to Asia for shark fin soup. Fishermen are often only interested in the fins, which are sliced off' the live fish that is then thrown back into the sea. It is estimated that 100 to 200 million sharks per year are killed for their fins. Shark cartilage is also popular as an alleged anticancer agent. However, there is no medical basis to this other than the fact that sharks show low cancer rates. TRAFFIC is monitoring this trade and promoting stronger marine law enforcement.

“It is well known that China has a market for tiger parts, based on the myth that they will inherit the strength and majesty the animal”

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