Even Africa’s National Parks Aren't Safe for Rhinos Anymore

With poachers killing a record number of rhinos, officials at South Africa's Kruger National Park are moving animals to safer reserves.

Kruger National Park rangers keep the head of a white rhino up during a relocation capture on Oct. 17. (Photo: Stefan Heunis/Getty Images) 

Nov 28, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

South Africa’s Kruger National Park is turning from a safe haven into a slaughterhouse for endangered rhinoceroses.

The 7,500-square-mile park is one of Africa’s most famous national wildlife reserves, but it’s quickly becoming infamous as a favorite hunting ground for rhino poachers.

Poaching has accounted for 672 rhino deaths within the park this year—making up the majority of the record 1,020 rhinos killed in all of South Africa in 2014. The country is home to more than 85 percent of the 25,000 rhinos left in the world. But with poachers killing around three rhinos a day, the population is dropping fast.

Now rangers are moving the rhinos to special protected enclaves, hoping the heavily monitored, smaller locations will deter future poaching efforts.

At Kruger, about 45 rhinos have been relocated this month to a more protected zone in the park, while others have been transferred to different game reserves entirely. Parks officials at Kruger told Deutsche Welle broadcasting that they are trying to sell off rhinos to game reserves around the country to combat poaching.

“Safe havens or buffer zones have been hotly debated over the years as a way to protect civilians in some of the world’s major conflicts,” Christopher Torchia of the Associated Press reported. “South Africa is applying a variation of the idea to wildlife to try to stem surging demand for rhino horn.”

The plan is to remove as many rhinos as possible from near Kruger’s border along Mozambique—where many poachers are known to enter the park along the porous border.

With escalating demand and rising prices for rhino horn on the black market, poaching operations have surged in recent years. By some estimates, the animal’s horn is worth as much as $133 per gram on the black market—more expensive than gold or platinum.

At that price, one horn sold on the black market could equal the annual salary of a wildlife ranger. Earlier this year, one park ranger and two employees at Kruger were arrested for poaching the animals they were hired to protect.

“It is unfortunate that those trusted with the well-being of these animals are alleged to have become the destroyers of the same heritage that they have a mandate to protect,” Abe Sibiya, the park’s chief executive officer, said in September.

In the smaller “intensive protected zone” at the park’s south end, Kruger officials will ramp up aerial monitoring and ranger patrols of the 1,900-square-mile region.

Markus Hofmeyr, head of veterinary services at Kruger park, told The Associated Press the goal is “to basically ensure that you’ve got a foundation of animals that are secure and that you can use as a source population to take elsewhere.”

It’s a formula that’s worked before. In 1895, the Southern white rhino population had dwindled to fewer than 100 animals in one area of South Africa. Today, through reintroduction and transfer efforts, the species numbers have reached about 17,000 individuals roaming South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe.