Rhinoceroses have been rushed to near extinction with the demand for their horns, fueled by Asian consumers who believe the keratin has medicinal and aphrodisiac properties. From WIKUS THE LAW (AFP)
The mutilated carcass of a female white rhinoceros, which had just given birth months ago, lay rotting on a hill next to a road that winds through the South African Kruger National Park.
Insects feast on the 18-year-old animal, whose horns were cut off, causing a foul odor to fill the moist air.
"We found one .458 housing and it seems that there is a bullet in the carcass, there is nothing else," said Frik Rossouw, a senior researcher in the service of the South African National Parks (SANParks).
"As you can see, the hyena & vultures have done their thing."
Rangers found her 10-week-old calf in the neighborhood and went into a nearby sanctuary.
"It was so small that it could fit in the back seat of the helicopter," Rossouw told AFP.
Rhinoceroses have since the beginning of the 2000s been rushed to near extinction with the demand for their horns, fueled by Asian consumers who believe that the keratin has medicinal and aphrodisiac properties.
It reaches up to $ 60,000 per kilo (23,000 euros per pound) on the black market.
The rhinoceros was the fourth to be killed in Kruger the past few weeks – the jewel in the crown of the tourist attraction of the nation.
Barely a mile away from the bloodied roadside scene, another rhinoceros was dead, and researchers suspected that they had been killed by the same group of poachers.
"It is the first time we have committed a crime in this part of the park, so close to the main road," said Rossouw, a seven-year veteran of the park's detective service, while seizing an assault rifle.
"This animal was probably shot during the night – the poachers do not take the chance, because there is movement all day long."
& # 39; A game changer & # 39;
Poachers typically wait for full moons and clear skies to show their daring attacks in the park, limiting the need for electric light that could give them away to the heavily armed anti-poacher patrols.
South Africa is home to about 20,000 rhinos, about 80 percent of the world's population and despite recent setbacks, the park says it is making progress in the fight against poaching.
"We have reduced the number of animals poached from five per day and today we can proudly say that we have 1.3 per day," said SANParks spokesman Isaac Phaahla.
Armed with a series of detection technologies – some keep track of guarded secrets – sniffer dogs and surveillance planes, Kruger's anti-poaching power has an impact, claiming its foot soldiers.
The 54 dogs from the dog department of the park were at the center of high-profile victories over the well-funded highly disciplined poaching gangs.
Dogs are used for their acute sense of smell to find explosives, firearms and elephant ivory – as well as rhino horn.
& # 39; Arrest the big boys & # 39;
"A dog handler can recognize and identify human traces (traces)," said dog handler Craig Williams.
"But about grass is where your dog picks it up with its nose because it follows smell, no trace. So it's such a team," he added, and he described dog support as a "game changer" for the park.
Air support has also been crucial in helping to tackle poachers, according to Andrew Desmet who flies Bat Hawk surveillance planes over the two million-hectare park.
"The role of the aircraft can be suppressed, the poacher has to hide behind the trees and wait until the plane leaves – it will slow them down," said Desmet.
The park is now trying to grow its arsenal by adding the more powerful Fox Bat aircraft to its fleet and growing its dog pack.
Another new front in the fight is an increase in arrests of the kingpins that finance poaching operations – but the results are slow.
"Arresting the big boys will be a three-year project," said Phaala.
"We have had three remarkable arrests … and that shows that at least there is cooperation with the police and it is starting to bear fruit."
Phaala is now hopeful that when these cases come to court, there will be convictions and severe punishments.
In the province of Mpumalanga in South Africa, which occupies the southern half of Kruger, 365 suspected rhino poachers were arrested in the first half of the year.
For those on the front line such as Rossouw, Desmet and Williams, there is hope that the war against poaching will not be waged in vain.