Brutal rhino poaching methods have escalated in South Africa, which is currently home to about 70 percent of the remaining rhinos in the world.
Rhino horns are exceedingly valuable on the illicit market.
Prices between $30,000 and $65,000 per kg in Vietnam (worth more than gold, heroin, or cocaine) make it a lucrative underground business.
Generally as a result of some ridiculous myths.
During the days of colonialism exploiting the natural resources of Africa was the leading cause of rhino deaths in the form of unconstrained hunting.
Rhino hunting was considered a leisure activity. The rhino horn was kept as a trophy.
However, during the last few years, rhino horns are being used as a symbol of wealth.
Today rhino horn powder is seen as a cocaine-like party drug in Vietnam.
Demand from China and Vietnam has elevated the price of rhino horns to new levels.
There have been reports that rhino horn has been fetching prices as high as $50,000 per kg.
This is similar to the street price for cocaine in the UK.
This demand has resulted in a big surge in the number of rhino poaching incidents.
Ground horn is used in established Asian medicine as a generally assumed cure for a range of illnesses – from hangovers to cancer.
Along with its use in medicine, rhino horn is purchased and consumed purely as a symbol of wealth.
A story that started in Vietnam a few years ago, that rhino horn had cured cancer in a former politician spread rapidly.
The result of this unfounded, ridiculous story: Demand for rhino horn surged, hitting a record high of more than $60,000 a kilogram.
Rhinos have very poor eyesight and they cannot see stationary objects even just a few meters away from them.
Their hearing is however very acute and they also rely mainly on their well-developed senses of smell to warn them of approaching danger.
At the lower end of the spectrum of poachers, you find subsistence poachers.
They are usually from poor communities are driven by poverty and hunger.
Subsistence poachers are usually on foot and will shoot the rhino with random fire to the head and chest area, as well as the legs to immobilize the animal.
They will then remove the horns very roughly using an axe.
These poachers take high risk for comparatively little reward.
They will usually pass the horns to a syndicate member after the job is done.
Black rhinos leave characteristic three-toed prints and follow consistent routes, making them easy to track.
Black rhinoceroses belong to the order of odd-toed ungulates. They have three toes which make their tracks easy to identify.
At the higher end of the spectrum, you will find professional poachers.
They have well-structured operations and use high technology methods which involve -
These professional poachers are driven by a desire for financial gain and sheer greed.
This group sometimes involves experienced criminal gangs that are part of a more organized and structured group.
Some of the indicators that skilled professional hunters are also involved.
One tell-tale sign is the fact that in some cases it is clear that the rhinos have been felled with one single well-placed shot to the head or body.
The high-tech aerial attack will be done by darting the animal from the air with tranquilizer guns.
takes less than seven minutes to bring down the animal.
When they land the helicopter, they hack off the horns with a chainsaw.
The use of a helicopter allows for easy access and quick getaways.
Several media reports have indicated that the registration numbers on the tail of the aircraft get covered up or falsified during the operation.
The rhino subsequently dies either from an overdose of tranquilizer or bleeds to death.
One troubling fact is that the methods being used by the syndicates often reflect those used by wildlife capture operators in professional rhino management operations.
The rhinos are normally darted with a dosage of lethal drugs that may result in a quick death, although some evidence shows that the animal suffered great stress before death.
If the drug dosage had been too low to kill the rhino the animal is likely to wake during the brutal removal of the horns with a chainsaw.
The severely maimed rhino will then attempt to breathe through a cavity in its nasal passage between its eyes.
This rhino will have no sense of smell and if it survives will have a great battle to fight off any secondary infection.
Increasing evidence links South Africa's rhino poaching with wildlife industry insiders.
These individuals are obviously in a great position to run wildlife crime syndicates and are typically also well funded and connected within the industry.
There are also rumors that rhino poaching syndicates are penetrating the hunting industry.
The hunting industry has access to guns, permits, vehicles and charter aircraft making them a target for rhino poaching syndicates.
These rumors seem to have merit because of the increasing number of arrests of -
Unfortunately, there is no simple and obvious solution to this problem.
There is currently numerous proposals in the pipeline and some heated debates around opinions which include the following:
Funds are seriously needed to secure the safety of rhinos.
Financial support will contribute towards critically required for rhino protection projects in Africa.
Graph credit: rhinosurvival.org
Like the graph indicates, should the current trend continue, these African animals will be poached into extinction as soon as the year 2025.
The sheer extent of the challenge and the cruelty of what we are up against is overwhelming but we must not give up without a fight.