SCIENCE INSIDE: The science and tech of rhino poaching

Around 2000 rhinos have been poached in South Africa since 2012.

Regardless of the efforts made to stop this, the numbers increase year after year. Will we be able to stop rhino poaching? By starting with the atrocious story of a mutilated rhino being found by Belgian tourists in The Kruger National Park , The Science Inside explores the science and technology of rhino poaching.

The following clip here looks at the organized crime networks behind rhino poaching and how the networks keep ahead of the technology.

Slice of Life: 67 Minutes of Nothing

People may think I’m unpatriotic, but I don’t believe in campaigns like the 67 minutes for Mandela, Save the rhino, Shout! against crime and, the one I personally loathed the most, Kony2012.

They make people think that, by liking a facebook page, watching a YouTube video or doing something good once a year, they will make an impact in society.

Saving the rhino would be relevant if the animal were actually going extinct. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the rhino population in South Africa is not threatened. The annual growth of the rhino population is 7%, and only 2% are killed through illegal hunting. So what’s the fuss?

I agree with a recent statement by Cosatu spokesperson Dumisani Dakile after more people died in our mines: “We know if it was the rhinos killed there was going to be lot of noise… ” This just shows how wrongly slanted our attention and activism is.

Then there was the Stop Kony/Kony2012 social media campaign earlier this year.  Jason Russell filmed an emotional documentary about his Ugandan friend in order to unite the world behind a movement to arrest Joseph Kony for crimes against humanity.

What many people didn’t know was that Invisible Children, the organisation behind the Kony2012 video – which solicited donations by selling bracelets and other goodie-bags – was in my opinion a scam. Yes, a scam.

The organisation pays Russell roughly R700 000 a year. And only 30-35% of the money collected is used to build schools or for other “charitable acts”. Where does the other 65-70% of money go? Their financial statements seem to suggest that up to 25% of their money is used for travelling and film-making. Nobody seems bothered to ask about that.

I can continue ranting, but what is the point? These campaigns are backed by big-name celebrities and companies, so the public will stupidly fall in line.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for helping society, building unity and improving our country, but why are people so slow to start mass social movements against the non-delivery of textbooks in Limpopo, the huge unemployment rate and the shockingly high number of people who can’t read or write.

That is where improvement should start.

Students can prevent poaching crisis

Wits students who care about the country’s rhino poaching crisis can contribute in a number of ways.

“There are some student organisations that address these kinds of issues. For instance, Roots and Shoots and the BioSoc,” Prof Kevin Balkwill, Head of the Department of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences, said

“This is one way for students to become involved. Otherwise, there are more formal initiatives around Wits Rural Facility and Pullen Farm, two of Wits’ rural properties where students can become involved in conservation issues.”

The situation for the country’s rhinos is grave. A total of 52 rhinos have been dehorned since in South Africa’s game reserves, since the beginning of 2012, Wanda Mkutshulwa, Head of Communications at SANParks, revealed in a statement on February 3.

Two more rhino carcasses were found by tourists in the Kruger National Park on Tuesday, according to a statement released by Mr William Mabasa, Head of Public Relations and Communications at the Kruger National Park. The poachers are still at large.

Balkwill said many projects at Wits had conservation goals or applications. One way to make a difference was through postgraduate study.

A Wits honours student was due to contribute to the development of an Integrated Management Plan for the establishment of the Bushbuckridge Nature Reserve.

He also suggested that the Wits Volunteer Programme could be broadened to encompass environmental and conservation issues.

Dr Jo Shaw, a Wits PhD graduate, now working at Traffic, a wildlife trade monitoring network, suggested students interested in participating in conservation could start by raising funds.

“There are 150 organisations actively involved in ‘saving rhinos’ in South Africa now.”

“If you want to get involved, go for one of the larger organisations with a scientific advisory board who ensure that your money is well spent.

“As of the last estimates at December 31, 2010, there were 18 796 white rhinos and 1 916 black rhinos in South Africa,” she said,

“At current poaching rates, rhino populations in South Africa are anticipated to begin to decline in 2015 or 2016.”

The number of rhino deaths have been on the increase as early as 2006. As many as 448 rhinos were shot in 2011.