Thursday, 8 December 2011

Kruger National Park to protect its rhinoceroses

Wildlife authorities in one of Africa's most popular national parks will no longer tell visitors where to find its rhinoceroses after an upsurge in poaching in recent months.

Previously, tourists staying at one of the Kruger National Park's rest camps were able to consult maps decorated with coloured pins telling them where the elusive beasts were last spotted, maximising their chances of finding one.

But camp managers have been told to remove any information about the rhinos' whereabouts amid fears that poachers could also be consulting the boards in the hunt for their prey.

In the past week, six rhino carcases have been found in the two million-hectare park. All of them had been shot and had their horns removed.

Rhino poaching has soared in southern Africa, driven by a demand for their horns from Asia, where they are erroneously believed to cure cancer and impotence.

Crime syndicates provide poachers with sophisticated weaponry including high-powered rifles, night-vision goggles and even helicopters to locate and kill the rhinos.

The trade has driven Africa's white and black rhinos onto the global list of endangered and critically endangered species.

The South African military has been deployed to work with game rangers to protect the animals, but the numbers killed continue to climb.

Recent figures released by the South African National Parks authority reveal that 405 rhinos have been killed in the country so far this year, compared to 333 last year. A total of 229 rhino were poached in Kruger this year – compared to 146 last year.

William Mabasa, a spokesman for Kruger, which welcomes 1.2m visitors a year, said that removing the rhino signposts was part of a continuous drive to stop the killings.

"We don't know who else is using these boards but we will do anything we believe might have a contribution," he said. "When you are in a war, there's no success until the end of the war."

He insisted that tourists are still likely to see rhino regardless, but added: "Part of the fun of coming to the Kruger is to be find your own animal."

By Aislinn Laing, Johannesburg

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