CRF Blog

Where the Wild Things Die

by Bill Hayes

In Where the Wild Things Die for Foreign Policy magazine, Scott C. Johnson reports on the poaching wars in South Africa.

South Africa is home to roughly 80 percent of the world’s remaining rhinos, which number about 20,405 white rhinos and 5,055 black rhinos, according to conservation group Save the Rhino. But that population is in danger of imminent collapse due to a recent, dramatic increase in poaching. This is fueled by Asia’s reinvigorated appetite for the animal’s horn, prized for its alleged curative properties and mark of wealth; rampant corruption in South Africa; and soaring international prices on the black market. As a result, there is a multimillion-dollar global conservation war that stretches across southern Africa. And [Conraad] de Rosner is a mere foot soldier in the battle against these nighttime killers. “We do something — they adapt. They do something — we adapt,” he says, squinting in the midday heat. “They’re watching us as much as we’re watching them.”

De Rosner runs K9 Conservation, a company that exclusively targets the rhino poachers around the Singita Game Reserve, inside the Sabi Sands Game Reserve, a plot of private land that shares an open border with Kruger National Park. Nowhere in the world is the battle fiercer than in and around Kruger, 20,000 square kilometers of rough wilderness in the northeast corner of South Africa. About half the world’s white rhinos are found here in this one park, while other subspecies are scattered in small pockets of Asia and East Africa or in private reserves, game farms, and zoos. And though not yet endangered, white rhinos are being poached so aggressively in South Africa today that most experts agree the species could face extinction in about 10 to 20 years if anti-poaching efforts don’t succeed.

More than 1,000 animals were killed for their horns in 2013 — that’s about 4 percent of the population and roughly four times as many as those poached cumulatively between 1980 and 2007.  This year, more than 400 had been brought down by June. Now, park rangers estimate, two to three rhino horns enter the black market each day. “The illegal wildlife trade is huge business,” says Simon Morgan, director of Wildlife Act, a conservation NGO that works on protecting rhinos in South Africa. “But we are getting hammered on the rhino poaching. There are teams out there with radios and guns, and they’re having hot contact on a daily basis. It’s hectic.”

De Rosner couldn’t agree more.

“Tourists come here and enjoy the beautiful bush and look at all the pretty animals,” he says, “but what they don’t know is that there is a full-blown insurgency going on here. This is a war to save a species from extinction.”

“Tourists come here and enjoy the beautiful bush and look at all the pretty animals,” he says, “but what they don’t know is that there is a full-blown insurgency going on here. This is a war to save a species from extinction.” [more]