Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Rhino anti poaching efforts

Photo on Facebook. Not credited to a spcific photogrpher, but not mine.
Followers of this blog site should not think that the rhino and elephant slaughter going on in Africa has stopped. It may well be getting worse, and nobody is suggesting that the situation is improving. There has not been an actual quote of numbers of either species taken in the last month or so, but the last figure I read indicated that rhino were dying at the hands of poachers at a rate of slightly over two a day. One educated guess states that the mid-April figure is 200 animals this year.  Of course these are just two of the most charismatic of the charismatic megafauna that are under threat across Africa.

So, what has been happening on the anti-poaching front and on the protection and consumption end of the rhino horn chain? I’ll take a closer look at the ivory part of the story soon.

On April 4th there was an on line report in the Guardian from the David Smith about an alternative attempt to curtail the trade by inserting potent poisons and a pink dye into the horns of living rhino. This was only occurring in one private game reserve, the Sabi Sand, which, on its eastern border abuts the world-famous Kruger National Park.

The Sabi Sand Game Reserve is injecting non-lethal chemical mixtures into rhino's horns.           Photograph: David Smith/Sabi Sand Game Reserve

This was picked up by the Smithsonian on line magazine.

As the horn itself is inert and grows upwards at a steady rate this poses no risk to the rhino (other than the risks involved in immobilization). Of course, as the horn is worn down by rubbing the poison and dye will only reside in the top parts.

Consumers of the powdered horn in Asia risk becoming seriously ill from ingesting a so-called medicinal product, which is now contaminated with a non-lethal chemical package," said Andrew Parker, chief executive of the Sabi Sand Wildtuin Association, a group of private landowners in Mpumalanga province.

Apparently the insertion of the poison is not illegal, and those closest to the issue, like Tom Milliken of the wildlife trade monitoring network called TRAFFIC was reported as saying “it could act as a deterrent in areas where it is highly publicised but "is impractical in situations involving free-ranging animals in large areas, places like Kruger national park with 20,000 sq km. Thus, like dehorning, it probably has the effect of displacing poaching intensity to other areas, not stopping it altogether."

I have suggested before in this blog series that the whole surge in rhino horn “medical” properties is being driven by snake oil salesmen out to make a buck (lots of bucks) and the consequences be damned. If such a person was to see the pink dye there would be little to stop him or her from either countering the dye colour or selling it on as “special.” It would need a major media campaign in Vietnam to make people, aware of what is happening. I’m not betting my house on that.

Another fascinating little report came to me from a Linkedin post by Amber Dyson. She had spent 3 months in Vietnam in 2012 with the Endangered Asian Species Trust which is an organization that funds the Dao Tien Rescue Centre in Southern Vietnam. 

She wrote "I was in Vietnam carrying out research for my MSc dissertation on the use of animals in traditional medicine. Rhino horn was by far the most valued and the most desired though incredibly hard to source especially after the extinction of rhinos in Vietnam earlier that year."

She reported about a man who purchased some horn because he had cancer. The horn did not help (of course), but his status in the community rose markedly because he had been able to get hold of such a precious commodity. It had cost him the equivalent of three years salary!

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