Number of Rhinos Poached in South Africa on Pace to Break Record
Rhino poaching in South Africa continues to rise at a record pace and new data suggest that the number of rhinos illegally slaughtered for their horns in the nation will far exceed last year's record number of 668.
Last March, in a bold move to combat the illegal slaughter of rhinoceros for their horns, South Africa's Minister of Environmental and Water Affairs Edna Molewa called for a legal international trade in rhino horn.
Now, an analysis by the non-profit Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) in London reveals that since Molewa's announcement, the number of rhinos in South Africa poached each week has risen.
From Jan. 1 to March 13 an average of 15.36 rhinos were poached in South Africa. From the time Molewa expressed her support of legal international rhino horn trade at a United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) meeting in Bangkok on March 14 to Sept. 19, the weekly average rose to 18.6, totaling 505 in six months, according to the EIA analysis.
To date, 663 rhinos have been poached this year in South Africa. With more than three months left in the year, 2013 is on pace to exceed the record total of 668 poached rhinos last year.
The EIA has criticized South Africa for calling to legalize the trade in rhino horn.
"South Africa is stimulating an ever-increasing and unsustainable demand for rhino horn in Vietnam, China and other countries that is fueling the rhino poaching epidemic," said EIA president Allan Thornton. "South Africa's policy signal to the global marketplace that rhino horn is a smart investment commodity is unleashing a tsunami of destruction on South Africa's rhinos."
The South African government is backing the legalization plan, but the plan will need to gain approval from the members of CITES. A vote is scheduled for 2016.
Molewa has said that legalizing trade could limit the number of rhinos killed in South Africa, which is home to 75 percent of the world's rhino population.
"South Africa cannot continue to be held hostage by the syndicates slaughtering our rhinos," Molewa said in July. "The establishment of a well-regulated international trade" could help curb rhino poaching, she said. South Africa has a huge stockpile of 16,437 kilograms (36,237 pounds) of rhino horn, which is worth more than its weight in gold.
Cathy Dean, the London-based director of Save the Rhino International, told Bloomberg News that no matter the outcome, a more thorough understanding of the situation is needed.
"Legalizing the trade in rhino horn needs to be researched in detail, so that the doubters and the advocates fully understand the possible consequences," she said. "The one thing we all know is that the current approach isn't enough. There are fears that 900 to 1,000 rhinos could be killed in South Africa by the end of this year. Tackling the problem needs a whole range of measures."