الأربعاء , يونيو 10 2020

Poaching the creature that's more valuable than gold

Helicopter hovers over a rhino carcass in the Kruger National Park

Last year a record 1,215 rhinos were slaughtered for their horns in South Africa – and at the same time, 42 poachers were killed by rangers and police. This bloody conflict is fuelled by the mistaken belief in Asia that rhino horn cures cancer, and it’s growing more intense every year.

“The gunman advances close to the animal, against the wind. He shoots. After if falls the other two join the killer, this time to extract the horn. Then we go to our hideout and wait for the cover of night before we walk to the border.”

Eusebio lives in one of many small Mozambican villages scattered along the South African border. It’s a desolate, impoverished area. Most people live by farming small plots of maize and vegetables – but 27-year-old Eusebio had other ideas.

Eusebio

The money Eusebio earned from poaching changed his life

“I met up with my friends to discuss how we could escape our lives of poverty. We decided to go and poach a rhino. First we went to see the witchdoctor to find out the safest route to take. Then we left home and headed for the mountains.”

There are no more rhinos in Mozambique – the last were killed two years ago – so his destination was South Africa’s Kruger National Park, a pristine wilderness where animals can roam freely. It’s home to the majority of the world’s rhinos, which makes it the number one target for poachers.

“We wait and watch the movement of the rangers and when it gets dark we walk long distances to a place where the rangers rarely go. There we sleep. At dawn we start the hunt. When there’s no police around then you can kill it, but it should die on your first shot or it’s dangerous. Cutting the horn is hard, but we in the countryside are used to cutting wood with a machete, so it’s not difficult for us.”

Vet performs procedure on injured rhino in Kruger National Park

Rhinos who survive can be operated on – which you can see in a video at the bottom of the page

Poachers usually work in groups of three. One shoots the rhino, one cuts off the horn and the other acts as a look out. Eusebio was the shooter on his four successful trips into Kruger Park, making him about $10,000 (£6,740) in total.

This is a fraction of the value of a rhino horn in Asia, where, where – falsely thought to be a cure for cancer among other things, and an aphrodisiac – it can fetch $250,000 (£170,000). But to Eusebio it meant he could move his three wives and children out of their stick hut into a small house of brick and concrete, buy some cattle and set up a small bar.

Though he’s not proud of killing rhinos, he says his family might otherwise be going hungry.

Graph showing increase of rhino poaching in South Africa

As the number of slaughtered South African rhinos has shot up – from 13 in 2007 to more than 1,000 in 2013 and 2014 – a whole industry to protect the animal has arisen.

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