While the Kruger National Park suffers the most from rhino poaching, other land users and owners are also affected by the ongoing scourge. One of these is the SA Air Force (SAAF) which has and is taking steps to prevent poaching.
Lieutenant Colonel Etienne van Blerk, Staff Officer Environmental Services for the airborne arm of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), said efforts included micro-chipping of rhino and taking DNA samples while the animals are temporarily immobilised.
“The horns are also treated with a toxic substance similar to that used for treating domestic animals against parasite infection. This toxin, blended in an indelible dye, renders the rhino horn worthless to prospective users while posing no harm to the living rhino.
“The effects of a single treatment can last for up to three years and is certainly more effective that the other preventive practice of dehorning live animals,” he said adding horn regrowth made dehorned rhino a “feasible harvest” just over a year after dehorning.
“The SANDF is active on two fronts in firstly ensuring protection of rhino populations on military land through the treatment of horns of living animals and secondly, taking part in inter-departmental initiatives among various government departments and agencies. These include the SA Revenue Service, SA Police Service, the intelligence community and SANParks, all of whom bring unique resources to joint anti-rhino poaching operations,” he said.
As far as combatting rhino poaching is concerned Van Blerk points out six methods. These are: economic solutions, including legalising trade in rhino horn; sustainable harvesting of rhino horn; dehorning; using the media more extensively to mobilise action against rhino poaching; improving capacity to enforce the “adequate” legislation on the South African statute book and internationally and boosting anti-poaching resources.
“The key to reversing the trend in rhino poaching is to break the chain which effectively consists of poachers, couriers, middlemen, buyers, manufacturers or producers ultimately to the end user (consumer) of rhino horn. Understanding this chain sufficiently will allow opportunity for authorities to disrupt the transfer or flow of rhino horn in the illicit trade.”