KRUGER NATIONAL PARK, South Africa — They used to rely on snares, poison and shotguns to kill rhinos for their horns.
Now international crime syndicates are arming poachers with night-vision goggles and AK-47 assault rifles as the price for rhino horn surpasses gold.
When the crackle of gunfire signals the death of yet another rhino, radios squawk to life here in South Africa’s flagship Kruger National Park and soldiers ready for pre-dawn patrols.
“They’ve become very aggressive,” Ken Maggs, head of the South African government environmental crime investigation unit, said of the poachers. “They leave notes for us written in the sand, warnings. That indicates it is an escalating issue … They are coming in prepared to fight.”
The government of South Africa, home to 90 percent of the rhinos left on the continent, is fighting back. Since more than 140 troops were deployed in April, the number of rhinos killed in Kruger has dropped from 40 in March and 30 in April to 15 in May and just two in June.
Fifteen alleged poachers also have been killed this year, and nine suspects wounded in gunfights.
Still, rhino carcasses with mutilated faces are becoming a common sight in African wildlife parks. The hacked-off horns are destined to be smuggled to China and Vietnam, where traditional medicine practitioners grind them up for sale as alleged cures for everything from fevers to arthritis and cancer.
The horns have become so valuable that thieves this year started stealing rhino exhibits in European museums. The going rate is up to $44,000 a pound according to the London Metropolitan Police department.
Even in the United States, police in Denver have arrested members of an Irish syndicate trying to smuggle rhino horn.
“Aside from Central and South America, every region of the world appears to be affected by criminals who are fraudulently acquiring rhinoceros horns,” warned John M. Sellar, enforcement chief of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
“Government officials are being corrupted. Money-laundering is taking place,” he said.
Kruger sprawls across 5 million acres — about the size of Massachusetts — and around two-thirds of poachers come on foot across the border from Mozambique.
“They come across around sunset, aim to shoot the rhino before dark and then spend the night in the bush before heading home with the horn,” Col. Vilakazi said.
Soldiers do not patrol at night, though, because of the dangerous nocturnal predators: Once, a pride of lions charged at troops in the back of an open van transporting meat, Col. Vilakazi said. The soldiers fired into the air to frighten away the lions. Now they use closed vehicles and live on canned rations.View Entire Story
By John Solomon
How the government's punishing of the exposure of official wrongdoing can linger for years
Independent voices from the TWT Communities
First over-the-counter column approved for fast and effective relief from even your worst media-induced headache.
A collection of reader guest articles, thoughts and opinions by Communities writers and breaking news and information.
Great discoveries in the world of restaurants and chefs fulfill the quest for delicious food and cooking.
Paul Rondeau dissects the propaganda, media tricks, and other shenanigans targeting our families, faith, and freedom…and even life itself
Benghazi: The anatomy of a scandal
Vietnam Memorial adds four names
Cinco de Mayo on the Mall
NRA kicks off annual convention