Photo via cornstaruk via Flickr Creative Commons
Thanks to new high-tech equipment used by poachers, from helicopters to night-vision goggles to guns with silencers and drugged darts, rhino poaching has skyrocketed since 2008. Even last year, poaching reached a 15-year high, but 2010 has been even worse. The fancy gear also points directly at organized crime wanting to fill the demand from Asian markets where horns can be sold for $30,000 a pound -- and each horn weighs between 6.3 to 8.1 pounds. It is adding up to a serious crisis for African rhinos. According to Live Science, the poaching equates to Africa losing one rhino every other day -- the white rhino, which is near-threatened at 17,500 individuals left, and the black rhino, which is already critically endangered with just 4,000 individuals left in the wild.
What makes 2010 such a deadly year is the recent emergence of high-tech gear that only started being used in the last 6-12 months.
"Within South Africa's national parks -- not counting private land there, where poaching was rare -- there were 10 rhinos poached in 2007," said Matthew Lewis, senior program officer for African species conservation for the World Wildlife Fund. "Thus far in 2010 alone, more than 200 rhinos were poached within South Africa, with a lot of those poached outside national parks, so that's a more than 2,000 percent increase in just three years' time."
The Asian demand for the horns has gone up along with the economy -- the more well-off people are, the more they can afford the expensive horns used in traditional medicine. Despite the fact that there is no medicinal properties in horns at all, they're still more valuable than gold.
The two species of Asian rhino and one species of Indian rhino are also poached, but not to as great an extent as African rhinos. Last year a quarter of the rhinos in Zimbabwe were killed, and the last female white rhino in a South African reserve was killed earlier this year.
Photo via Jaymi Heimbuch
While some success has been made in catching poachers, such as the arrest of a gang in Kenya earlier this year, it's clear that there is a serious crisis on our hands. The only solution is cutting off the source -- educating would-be buyers about the medicinal uselessness and ecological danger of rhino horns.
The idea of removing horns from wild rhinos by tranquilizing them still poses dangers for the animal, from dying from the drug to injury while succumbing to or recovering from the tranquilizer. Though this idea has been considered in the argument about legalizing the rhino horn trade in order to keep rhinos alive and reduce the value of the horns to tame the market.
Though there are also more extreme ideas we've seen floated, including injecting rhino horns with poison so that anyone using them will die. The odds of that plan being implemented, however, are pretty slim.
Follow Jaymi on Twitter for more stories like this
More on Rhino Poaching
Wildlife Trafficking, Organized Crime & You
Rhino Horn Now Worth More Than Gold - And You Wonder Why Poaching Continues...
Poachers Kill Last Female White Rhino in South African Reserve
25% of Zimbabwe's Rhinos Killed in Past Three Years by Gangster Poachers