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10/28/2013

Experts were right: rhino toll could be 1,000 before 2013 ends

Rhino

The carcass of a rhino killed by poachers at Kruger National Park in South Africa. (Reuters photo)

Observers were right.

The number of rhino poached for their horns in South Africa since January 2013 has gone up to 790, already over a hundred more than in 2012, as observers had predicted that this year would be the bloodiest for rhinos and the final toll could easily be over 1,000.

Out of the 790 rhinos killed, more than half — 476 — were at Kruger National Park.

At this rate, rhinos will be extinct from the wild within 15 years.

It is not as if the government in South Africa — and neighbouring countries — is not doing anything. Far from it: South Africa’s Kruger Park is home to an estimated 5,000 rhinos spread across 20,000 square kilometers and the government signed up retired major general Johan Jooste to fight poachers who are believed to be sneaking in from neighbouring Mozambique.

In Kenya, the government launched an elite paramilitary force to fight elephant and rhinos poaching.

At the Dinokeng Game Reserve in Gauteng, South Africa, workers started injecting a mix of parasiticides and indelible pink dye into more than 100 rhino horns to keep poachers away.

So why are rhinos still being killed?

Because their horns are still worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in South-East Asian countries like Vietnam.

Though the weight of rhino horns varies, an individual horn can fetch up to $350,000 and a kilogram of the horn sells for as much as $65,000.

In Vietnam, it is believed that the rhinos horn has miraculous healing properties, including a cure for cancer.

Incredible as it sounds, this rumour has allegedly been compounded at some hospitals in that country where staff have supposedly offered rhino horn to terminally ill patients.

The horn is mixed with water after being ground into a powder and consumed as a liquid.

Raveena Aulakh is the Toronto Star’s environment reporter. She is intrigued by climate change and its impact, now and long-term, and wildlife. Follow her on Twitter @raveenaaulakh

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