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Another rhino bust


Late yesterday afternoon, police made another breakthrough in their fight against rhino poaching when they arrested three suspected poachers in Mookgophong (formerly known as Naboomspruit), in Limpopo Province. Acting on information passed to them, the suspects were caught in possession of an R5 rifle making it a strong possibility they are some of the lead members of a syndicate dubbed the R5 Gang. Over a number of months now there have been various poaching incidents across Limpopo and Northwest provinces where two R5 rifles have been used to kill numerous rhino.

Because the R5 is the weapon of choice for both the army and police, there is speculation that the syndicate may have links to these institutions. It is also thought that some gang members may be from Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

Staying with rhino, but on another note, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) will be holding a seminar between 1-3 March to assess “the efficacy of dehorning and the legal trade in rhino horn as a deterrent to poaching”. While all attempts at finding solutions are to be welcomed, I wonder whether EWT views these two options as the only, or best solutions to the poaching crisis? I can only hope not, and that in time, they will be hosting similar seminars that thoroughly investigate other options. A reputed body such as EWT is well placed to be assisting international agencies such as the IUCN and CITES in global education campaigns refuting the absolute nonsense that drives the usage of rhino horn in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

In the meantime, the United Kingdom has taken a step in the right direction: it is now illegal to trade in mounted rhino horns “unless it has been sufficiently and obviously altered to qualify under the ‘antiques’ derogation”. While this segment of the market may only account for a small portion of trade, it nonetheless indicates a shift away from the trading and pro-use arguments, and closes another loophole.

Ian Michler

Ian has spent the last 24 years working as a specialist guide, photo-journalist and consultant across Africa, including a stint of 13 years based in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. When not guiding, he writes predominately for Africa Geographic covering topics on conservation, wildlife management, ecotourism, and the environment, and has been writing his popular monthly column since 2001. Ian is also the author and photographer of seven natural history and travel books on Africa, and is a past winner of the bird category in the Agfa Wildlife photographic competition (1997). He has also worked as a researcher and field coordinator on various natural history television documentaries for international broadcasters and as a consultant on ecotourism to various private sector and government agencies. Prior to his life in the wilderness, he spent eight years practicing as a stockbroker in Cape Town and Johannesburg.