Rhino Evacuation Planned for Hundreds in S. Africa
Martin Harvey/Gallo Images/Getty Images
South African parks have relocated rhinos in the past. Here, a black rhino is airlifted from Ithala Game Reserve to a new, undisclosed conservation area.
Vassil, Wikimedia Commons
The co-host of a hunting show on the Outdoor Channel recently spent $350,000 for the chance to hunt an endangered black rhinoceros in southern Africa. Corey Knowlton won the Dallas Safari Club's auction for a permit to hunt the rhino in Namibia. Knowlton says he and his family have received death threats after his name was made public through social media. "As much as I would love them all to live forever, they are going to die," Knowltontold CNN
. "The older males are killing each other, and something has to be done about it."
Nearly any animal can be legally killed in many parts of Africa, so long as the hunter pays the right amount of money. For rare and endangered species, the cost can escalate to many thousands of U.S. dollars.
"National parks are obviously trying to make money," Johnny Rodrigues, Chairman for Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, told Discovery News. "The hunters have to pay the parks if they want to shoot the animals."
It can be a Catch-22, since the parks often struggle to pay their staff, which include those who work to care for and protect the animals. The high price tag of a permit may serve as a deterrent, but it also reflects how much poachers can earn without even benefiting the parks.[/br
Patrick Giraud, Wikimedia Commons
The payment needed to legally shoot an elephant drops to $50,000 in Zimbabwe, with a further loss of $10,000 if the elephant has no tusks. "The reason rhinos are more valuable than elephants is because the horn is so valuable and in such high demand by the Chinese," Rodrigues said.
Patrick Giraud, Wikimedia Commons
$20,000 can allow hunters with appropriate permits to kill several rare animals in many parts of Africa. Leopards are on that list, even though The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists them as "threatened."
Kevin Pluck, Wikimedia Commons
The price tag on lions is also $20,000. In terms of what happens to the dead animals, "As far as I know," Rodrigues said, "once the animals are hunted, they are exported to the hunter's home country." Upon arrival, the hunter may preserve the animal's dead body and put it on display.
The cost to legally hunt a cheetah in Zimbabwe is $20,000. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists them as "vulnerable," but further mentions that "the known cheetah population is approximately 7,500-10,000 adult animals." In 1975, the number of cheetahs in Africa was estimated at 15,000, revealing that this species has significantly declined in only three generations.
Majestic Roan antelopes also can be hunted for $20,000 in parts of Africa. While its population is more numerous than wild cats, this species has been eliminated from large parts of its former range, primarily due to poaching and habitat loss.
Paul Maritz, Wikimedia Commons
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species reports that sable antelopes possess "high value as a trophy animal."
Ikiwaner, Wikimedia Commons
Sometimes the cost to hunt an animal differs if the target is male or female. That is the case for African buffalos, since males have larger horns than females do. The horn size difference costs a hunter an extra two grand to shoot a male African buffalo.
Roland H., Wikimedia Commons
A hunter must pay $5,000 to legally shoot a giraffe in Zimbabwe. The IUCN Red List reports that "a recent preliminary population estimate suggests a decline in the total population has taken place." While giraffes are currently listed as being animals of "least concern," that classification might soon change if the estimate is substantiated.
Valdiney Pimenta, Wikimedia Commons
On the less expensive side of the scale are flamingos, which cost only $100 to legally hunt in Zimbabwe. The value of this and the other animals to conservationists and other animal lovers comes without a price tag, however. To them, the animals are priceless. Nevertheless, by putting a price on the heads of animals, some national parks in Africa earn money that helps to fuel their operations. The biggest problem is poachers, who receive relatively light sentences for their crimes.
Rodrigues explained, "The only thing a poacher would get if they trapped these animals is a jail sentence if they are caught."
South Africa plans to evacuate hundreds of rhino from the famed Kruger National Park to safe havens beyond horn smugglers' reach, the environment minister announced Tuesday.
"A decision has been made on this issue of translocation," Edna Molewa said, announcing an action plan to curb escalating illegal hunts for rhino horn. "Relocations from the Kruger National Park and the creation of rhino strongholds could allow the total rhino population size of South Africa to continue to grow," she said.
The authorities "could relocate up to 500" rhino, which can weigh a ton or more, said South African National Parks ecologist Sam Ferreira.
Illegal rhino killings have spiked from 13 in 2007 to 1,004 last year, steadily increasing despite the deployment of soldiers in the vast nature reserve, which is roughly the size of Wales or Israel.
The animals' horns -- made from the same material as finger nails -- are coveted in some Asian countries as a traditional medicine and as a status symbol.
There are thought to be as few as 8,400 white rhinos and around 2,000 black rhinos left in Kruger Park, which has been hardest hit by poaching, though other national parks and private reserves have also fallen prey.
Now some rhinos will be moved from areas of high poaching activity inside the Kruger -- such as the eastern boundary which forms the border with Mozambique. Most poachers are thought to be recruited from the impoverished neighboring country by middlemen who send the horns on through organized crime syndicates.
The relocated rhinos will find new homes in other state-owned provincial parks, private parks and communal areas. Neighboring countries are also being considered as hosts, according to the environmental ministry.
There is no timeframe yet for the mass operation.
"We are looking at capturing about six to eight animals a day in the cooler months," said the national parks head of veterinary services Markus Hofmeyer.
The summer season returns to the country in the latter part of the year, suggesting the moves might only be on the cards in the southern hemisphere autumn next April.
Armed guards look after rhinos at a park in South Africa. Jackie Clausen/Sunday Times/Gallo Images/Getty Images
Authorities spend about $2,000 (1,600 euros) to track and catch a rhino, said Hofmeyer. Fees include helicopters, drugs and personnel, but exclude transporting the animal.
"The cost implications vary," he said.
A year ago the government gave the green light to studies exploring the possibility of legal trade in rhino horn. No decision has been taken on the matter.
South Africa has more than 18 tons of rhino horn stockpiles, according to figures given by the department of environmental affairs in 2013. In April, a safe owned by a regional parks agency was broken into, and around 40 rhino horns were stolen, raising fresh questions about the illicit trade.
Journalist Julian Rademeyer, author of the book on rhino poaching Killing for Profit, said it had been clear for a long time the relocations would happen.
"It was something that had to be done given the entrenched problems," he said, referring to failed efforts to curb poaching. "It harkens back to some of the plans in the 1960s and 1970s that were instrumental in bringing the white rhino population back from extinction," he told AFP.
The country has also relocated 1,450 rhinos from the park in the past 15 years.
But Rademeyer warned that while breaking up the population would make it harder for poachers to find the animals, there would always be illegal hunters from poverty-stricken areas around nature reserves like in Mozambique.
"You're dealing with communities where there are very few opportunities, where corruption is rife, places that are steady recruitment grounds," he said. "The social problems that are helping to foster this situation and that are providing poor people that serve as poachers... aren't going to go away."
Courts have handed stiff sentences to poachers, but police rarely catch the masterminds behind the illegal hunting and trade.