Rhino poaching is a big deal in South Africa. Both in that it happens frequently and that there is a lot of anti-poaching education and action. A lot of our trip was spent discussing rhino poaching with our rangers and lodge management. Rhino poaching is seen as being largely driven by demand from Asia. Traditional medicine uses rhino horn for a multitude of ailments including erectile disfunction. That someone would wholesale slaughter rhino across an entire continent when they can go to a pharmacy for Viagra, makes me see red. Especially given that scientific studies have shown that rhino horn is basically the same as human's finger nails. Imagine we were murdered for our fingernails because a rumor was going around that they cured cancer and suddenly finger nails were worth $40,000. That's what a rhino horn is worth.
Private game reserves and lodges go to extreme lengths to combat poachers. All new employees are finger printed and take lie detector tests to determine they are not involved with poaching. Often, it's the lodge employees (guides and trackers) that tip off poachers regarding the location of a rhino. Employees are randomly screened with lie detector tests throughout their employment. Anti-poaching units are deployed across game reserves, camping out in strategic locations. Reserves and parks own helicopters to scan vast areas. K-9 units are also employed.
These measures are starting to pay off. In 2018, rhino poaching in South Africa decreased by 25%. With 769 rhinos poached, it was the first year since 2012 that less than 1,000 of the animals were killed illegally. More than half of those rhinos were killed in the Greater Kruger area, which lies on South Africa's border with Mozambique. Poachers often will come across the border and hunt the animals with automatic weapons and night scopes. They then saw off the horns and leave the bodies behind.
I hope that the coming years provide a graph with a similar down turn year after year. That we as humans kill these animals for reasons tied to our own egos, greatly saddens me. Whether used as a status symbol or for traditional medicinal, a species this endangered needs all the protection it can get. I'm glad that the worldwide conservation community is doing its part. I hope that educational campaigns in Asia can be implemented to help decrease demand as well. Until demand is reduced, only so much can be done.