In 2015, 1175 rhino were killed by poachers in South Africa and unofficial figures for 2016 show the numbers are on par to meet or exceed last year’s due to increased demand in Asia for the animal’s horn.
International outcry against poaching is prevalent as people like Princes William and Harry join the fight to save the species to the brink of extinction, but no one has talked to the poachers themselves to ask why they do it, and can anything really be done about it… until now. During my latest trip to South Africa I met up with people on both sides of the poaching problem – people running an orphanage and people who put the rhino babies in there to begin with.
The result is fascinating and goes beyond the simple excuses of human greed and the need to erase the demand coming from Asia – and shows South Africa needs to take a closer look at home and its domestic policies for anything to really be done.
During apartheid, local tribes were evicted from the Kruger area so the National Park could be formed. After the park was formed, black people were forbidden from entering the park.
While Apartheid has ended, its effects still linger – especially around Kruger.
Currently some 2 million impoverished people live on the border of the park with severely limited job and economic opportunities. And by limited, let’s be blunt: there is almost no electricity or running water. There are no government programs of social services. And those lucky enough to have a job (unemployment rates in the area are estimated by some to be as high as 75 percent) often make under $100 a month.
On my last trip to South Africa, while working with anti-poaching units and an orphanage, I caught a glimpse of a paycheck given to a man who was charged with rhino security. It was roughly $20 … for three weeks of non-stop work. Juxtapose that with the paycheck a poacher gets – around $1500 per horn and it’s not hard to figure out why the rhino are in such danger.
Often times the private security guards as well as the park rangers inside Kruger are in on the poaching circuits – as well as teachers, policemen, shopkeepers and others in “respectable” trades.
Godknows Nare, a Zimbabwean journalist, spent six months with rhino poachers living on the border of Kruger.
“At first I thought (poachers) were just cruel criminals,” Nare said. “But then you engage with the people, you live with the people…. There are villages just around the Kruger National Park – they live on social grants because there is no more land to farm… An empty stomach doesn’t say anything doesn’t think anything about death. You just just need to fill up your stomach. Then you can think about other things.”
Viktor Barkas, who runs the Rhino Protrack team, which patrols for poachers on privately owned land outside of Kruger, in Hoedspruit, South Africa, told me last year that in the small area he patrols there are 2,000 rhinos — 126 of which were slaughtered in the first half of last year, leaving many rhino offspring orphaned.
“It is not a war on rhino,” Barkas said. “It is a genocide.”
For more, watch the video above and click HERE.