As you might guess, it is illegal to kill elephants and rhinos in Africa. However, with ivory and horns in high demand, it hasn’t stopped poaching. Most of the world’s population of rhinos is found in Africa – about 25,000. Of that, the organization Save the Rhinos estimates that 21,000 are in South Africa.
But, the rhinos are being killed in almost record numbers by poachers. This year, 633 rhinos have been killed.
The elephants of Africa aren’t faring much better. There were mass killings in both Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Why are these animals being killed? Because their ivory and horns bring in big money on the black market, especially in Asia. Last year, officials confiscated almost 40 tons of illegally poached ivory. This year, they have confiscated about 28 tons so far.
Elephant ivory has been used in ornamental items in Asia for many years. But now, consumers are wanting rhino horns because they believe they have healing powers. In Vietnam, it is believed that rhino horn can cure cancer. In Hanoi, one kilogram can go for as much as $65,000!
Of course, with money that big, organized crime is involved. The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), led by Joseph Kory, is believed to be behind much of the poaching and smuggling to Asia. Kory’s group is also responsible for child soldiers and sex slave trading in Uganda.
Most of the animal poaching occurs in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. The park has workers but there are several reasons the poaching still occurs. First, the park is large – about the size of Israel. Second, workers went on strike for two months this year. Third, some of the workers themselves are corrupt and turn a blind eye to the poaching for a payoff.
South Africa is trying to prevent the problem by deploying military to the park for extra security. About 200 arrests were made in 2012.
Recently, South Africa and Vietnam signed a deal to try to prevent the illegal poaching. Some say that for now, more rhinos are being born than killed, but if this alarming trend continues, rhinos could face becoming endangered species.