Airborne killers put rhino at risk of extinction

rhinoHARARE The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has made a passionate plea to INTERPOL, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and the World Customs Organisation to help it fight rhino poaching syndicates that threaten to wipe out rhino populations in Southern Africa and Asia.

Rhinos in India, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Nepal have been killed in droves by rampant organised crime groups that control the smuggling of rhino horns to markets in far east of Asia, in an illegal business operation that rakes in millions of US dollars annually, CITES said at the weekend.

South Africa and Zimbabwe have recorded sharp increases in illegal rhino hunting in the past three years, with poaching networks allegedly linked to politicians in the region. Networks now use sophisticated methods and have stepped up their activities, killing more than 300 animals.

The shoot to kill policy adopted by some governments in Africa does not seem to be deterring poachers, and one national park store was even robbed at gunpoint so that horns removed by park staff from rhinos that had died naturally could be stolen, said CITES Legal Affairs Officer Juan Carlos Vasquez.

The secretary of CITES, Willem Wijnstekers, last week revealed that security forces in Zimbabwe had carried out most of the poaching activities in the countrys national parks and private wildlife conservancies.

According to unimpeachable environmental conservation sources in Zimbabwe and South Africa, poachers now fly in helicopters over game parks to identify rhinos and, while airborne, shoot drugs at the animals to stun them.

Once targeted animals become weakened, the rustlers land and brutally cut off their horns with chainsaws and quickly disappear while their victims bleed to death.

Practices like these have put the black and the white rhino in critical danger of extinction, as both species are targeted for the horn, sought after in Asian markets such as China for dubious medicinal purposes and in the Middle East to manufacture handles of Jimbaya ritual swords.

It is estimated there are around 14,500 white rhinos, and only 4,000 of the seriously endangered black rhino.

The Zimbabwe Conservation Taskforce (ZCTF) says that during the farm grabs that began in 2000 in Zimbabwe, a large percentage of private game ranches and conservancies were confiscated, leaving the wildlife such as rhino at the mercy of the notorious war veterans.

Environmental monitors such the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) have expressed concerns about Zimbabwean authorities having recently acquitted, under unclear circumstances, a number of Zimbabwean poachers who had admitted to killing 18 rhinos.

In South Africa, where a number of rhinos were killed in recent weeks, authorities have threatened to intensify the war against rampant poaching.

We will hunt them in the bushes, in the cities, airports and internationally, said Dr David Mabunda, the chief executive officer of SANParks last week.

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