Johannesburg (AFP) Jan 31, 2011
Poachers killed 21 rhinos in South Africa in January despite measures introduced to curb the surge after the worst year of rhino poaching on record, the country's parks agency said on Monday.
"The loss of 333 rhinos to poaching in 2010 was a devastating loss for us but we are determined that in 2011 that should not happen," said South African National Parks chief David Mabunda.
He said government's efforts to stop poaching were paying off as five suspected rhino poachers had been killed so far this year while police have arrested 31 people in the same period.
"Anyone who is involved in poaching at whatever level will be a prime target for our investigations and we will leave no stone unturned in this respect, including going for the kingpins of these operations," Mabunda said.
The government launched a National Wildlife Crime Investigation Unit in October to crack down on poachers.
Parks and game reserves are also introducing a range of inventive anti-poaching programmes, including dyeing the horns, tracking them with micro-chips and cutting them off before poachers can get to them.
But Pelham Jones of the Private Rhino Association said that while the January figures might be lower than last year's, there was not much improvement.
"Last year we lost 333 rhinos, which means we lost one rhino every 26 hours," he said.
"We are hugely concerned that we have not seen a remarkable reduction and we don't think the situation is improving."
Government and conservationists have blamed the surge in poaching on organised syndicates that use helicopters, night-vision equipment, veterinary tranquilisers and silencers to hunt their prey by night.
South Africa is home to some 17,500 white rhinos and 4,200 black rhinos, or more than 70 percent of the world's remaining total population.
earlier related report
After talks in Bhutan at the weekend, the countries launched the South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN), according to a joint statement from wildlife groups and the Bhutanese agriculture ministry.
"SAWEN will help Bhutan to link up with authorities and officials across the region to share good practices and resources to co-operate and co-ordinate actions to apprehend poachers and traffickers," Pema Jamtsho, Bhutan's Minister for Agriculture and Forests said in the statement.
Samir Sinha, programme head for anti-smuggling body Traffic in India, said in the statement that the launch of SAWEN by India, Nepal, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Bangladesh was "a milestone."
"This is an essential piece of a collective effort to conserve a region of outstanding biological richness and diversity," he said.
Decades of poaching and smuggling have decimated the population of tigers in South Asia, with elephants and rhinos also under threat.
Tiger and elephant parts are used as decoration, good luck charms, and jewellery. Tiger parts are also used in the preparation of oriental medicines, particularly in China.
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