South African game park officials arrested for rhino poaching

March 1st, 2012 - 2:02 am ICT by BNO News  

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (BNO NEWS) — Four South African National Parks (SANParks) officials were arrested on Tuesday in connection with suspected rhino poaching activities, officials said on Wednesday. At least 80 rhinos have been killed in South Africa in just three months.

The four officials were arrested on Tuesday afternoon after two white adult rhino carcasses were discovered at Napi Boulders Loop in the Pretoriuskop Ranger Section of Kruger National Park (KNP), which is located in northeast South Africa. The rhinos were shot and their horns removed.

An investigation into the killing of the two white rhinos resulted in the arrests of four SANParks officials on Tuesday afternoon, a spokesperson for the agency said. The four KNP-based officials, including one field ranger a member of the Protection Services unit, and two traffic cops, are all stationed in the Pretoriuskop section of the park.

“Further investigations into the killing of the two rhino and possibly other rhino poaching incidents in the area are currently being conducted,” said SANParks spokesperson Wanda Mkutshulwa. “In this area alone a total of 11 rhino have been killed since January 2012 and so far this year a total of 43 rhino have been lost to poaching in the KNP broadly.”

SANParks chief executive officer David Mabunda said he was saddened to learn that its employees may have been involved or responsible for the killings of rhinos. “It is a very sad day for South Africa to find out that the unscrupulous and revolting hands of the poaching syndicates have stretched as far as to taint the hands of those trusted with the great responsibility of being guardians of our natural heritage,” he said. “I am personally saddened to discover that some of our own would so callously abuse the confidence and faith that we have entrusted upon them.”

Tuesday’s discovery brought the total number of rhinos killed across South Africa so far this year to at least 80, an increase of 26 in less than two weeks. Fifty people have been arrested in connection with poaching since the start of the year, according to figures released by SANParks.

Rhinos are mostly being killed for their horns which are popular in medicine markets across Southeast Asia, and an increasing demand has pushed prices to more than $50,000 per kilogram (2.2 pounds). At least 448 rhinos were poached in South Africa in 2011, a substantial increase from the 333 rhinos killed in 2010, according to SANParks. At least 122 rhinos were killed in 2009.

In November 2011, the International Union for the Conservative of Nature (IUCN) declared Africa’s Western Black Rhinoceros to be extinct. The rhino subspecies was once widespread in central-west Africa, but the Western Black Rhinoceros became heavily hunted in the beginning of the 20th century.

And in October 2011, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the International Rhino Foundation confirmed that Javan rhinoceros have also been driven to complete extinction in Vietnam. With the complete extinction in Vietnam, only one small group remains in the wild: the 40 to 50 Javan rhinos in Ujung Kulon in Indonesia.

Other rhino subspecies also face extinction. The population of the Sumatran rhino, which is found from northeastern India through Southeast Asia in Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Malaysia and the Indonesian Islands of Borneo and Sumatra, has declined by at least 50 percent during the last 15 years, making it one of the most endangered rhino species in the world.

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