Last year a record 1,215 rhinos were slaughtered for their horns in South Africa – and at the same time, 42 poachers were killed by rangers and police. This bloody conflict is fuelled by the mistaken belief in Asia that rhino horn cures cancer, and it’s growing more intense every year.
Eusebio lives in one of many small Mozambican villages scattered along the South African border. It’s a desolate, impoverished area. Most people live by farming small plots of maize and vegetables – but 27-year-old Eusebio had other ideas.
There are no more rhinos in Mozambique – the last were killed two years ago – so his destination was South Africa’s Kruger National Park, a pristine wilderness where animals can roam freely. It’s home to the majority of the world’s rhinos, which makes it the number one target for poachers.
Poachers usually work in groups of three. One shoots the rhino; one cuts off the horn and the other acts as a look out. Eusebio was the shooter on his four successful trips into Kruger Park, making him about $10,000 (£6,740) in total.
This is a fraction of the value of a rhino horn in Asia, where, where – falsely thought to be a cure for cancer among other things, and an aphrodisiac – it can fetch $250,000 (£170,000). But to Eusebio it meant he could move his three wives and children out of their stick hut into a small house of brick and concrete, buy some cattle and set up a small bar.
Though he’s not proud of killing rhinos, he says his family might otherwise be going hungry.
The illegal trade in rhino horn
- Wildlife crime is the fourth largest global illegal trade, according to WWF, after drugs, counterfeiting, and human trafficking.
- Rhino horn is one of the world’s most expensive commodities, fetching about $60,000 (£40,500) per kilogram – it’s worth more, gram for gram, than diamonds and gold.
- There are about 20,400 southern white rhinos in Africa – but campaigners warn that the number of rhinos poached may soon to exceed the number being born.
- In southern Africa, European hunters brought the rhinoceros to the brink of extinction in the early 1900s and there are no longer any in Mozambique.
- Some rhinos are pregnant when killed, others may leave orphans which later die; “There’s a lot of collateral damage… of the 1200 that were killed [last year] you can probably add another 400,” says vet Peter Rogers.
- Half of Mozambique’s population lives on less than $1 a day.
As the number of slaughtered South African rhinos has shot up – from 13 in 2007 to more than 1,000 in 2013 and 2014 – a whole industry to protect the animal has arisen.
One example is Protrack, the first of a number of private anti-poaching security companies that have been set up in South Africa.
The rangers live out in the bush and sleep under the stars when on patrol. To protect themselves from wild animals they make little enclosures with the branches of thorny bushes and spend the nights inside them with the comfort of a small fire.