With rhino pregnancies lasting 16 months, usually resulting in only one baby, the rate of reproduction is slow. It takes only minutes to kill a rhino, happening every ten hours, but 16 months to give birth to its replacement.
Describing the problem as “global terrorism”, Carl says, “As per a recent UN Caucus study, some of the biggest global terrorist groups are funded up to 75% by the illegal trafficking of animal products, including rhino horns”. He warns that, “South Africa’s economy is collapsing, and we are on the brink of civil war that could very well lead to the extinction of South African rhinos as well as many other animals. Our country fights for land, oil and water, but when will we unite to fight to protect our wildlife?”. Citing corruption as a big cause of these problems, he states, “there are 54 million South Africans, but we can’t look after the last 20,000 rhinos because our country cannot unite to fight against our own corruption”.
“The situation has escalated completely out of control. It is not just a South African problem; it is a global problem.”– Carl Thornton
But not all hope is lost. Various national parks and private reserves are employing military-trained anti-poaching units, such as ours, who are fighting for rhinos on the frontline. These units can end up in shootouts with poachers, ultimately costing either side their lives. This is incredible work being done by selfless individuals at huge risk to their safety and welfare. These dedicated personnel are fighting in warzones, away from their families and friends for long periods during deployment, all the while fighting to save the animals that others are destroying.
Importantly, in the two years prior to Covid-19, poaching had decreased in South Africa, with 594 incidents recorded in 2019. It was reported that there had been a reduction in poaching in the Kruger National Park in the previous five years, which was a positive sign, but is by no means enough. However, with the onset of Covid-19 last year, the South African tourism industry was shut down, leading to a dramatic increase in poaching.
Our team has been deployed to control two gates in the Greater Kruger area, helping to secure larger areas, keeping poachers, weapons, and contraband out of these reserves. We are now manning both of the gates in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, and are deployed as field rangers with K9s in the Umbabat Private Nature Reserve, which form part of the Association of Private Nature Reserves (APNR). We have also been undertaking extensive perimeter searches and security, ensuring that these areas are secure and doing everything we can to keep the rhinos in our care protected and safe.
It is clear that much of the human race places little to no emotional value on our wildlife. That hundreds of animals a year can be killed, purely for money, demonstrates this. Wildlife crimes are deemed less significant or important than other international crimes involving humans or drugs, such as trafficking. Picture this: a group of killers are employed to travel the world and kill hundreds of humans a year for their fingernails. There would be no law enforcement agency in the world who would not fight against that, who would allow that to happen and do nothing about it. Yet, this is exactly what is happening to rhinos.
With 94% of the world’s rhinos gone, the situation is, to say the least, dire.
Rhinos in South Africa are not currently considered a wild species by the government, but rather legislation has been introduced to encourage domestication of these animals. The hope for the future is that the South African government will stand up and do more to protect rhinos and make them a protected species.
There is still some hope in South Africa, though, with some government organisations working together in an effort to combat poaching. Arrests and prosecutions for poaching are on the rise, which is a positive step, but sentences are still too lenient, and many arrests do not translate into formal charges or sentences. Frighteningly, Mozambique, with a large number of poachers, considers poaching a misdemeanour. This needs to change. Corruption needs to be stopped and penalties need to be increased as a deterrent. Enforcing these laws and improving law enforcement is paramount to decreasing poaching.
Global law enforcement is also required, not just on a country-by-country basis. With numerous countries involved in poaching and trafficking syndicates, a global approach is required. It is not enough for each country to arrest and charge the locals caught on the ground. The heads of these vast and sophisticated networks need to be brought down. This can cause a significant disruption in the operation of their organisation, but requires intelligence, resources, and action.
It is equally vital on a global scale for countries to ban the importation of rhino horns. Some airlines and countries are beginning to ban such importation, which is a positive step, but more airlines and countries need to get on board.