12/05/2013 16:35 BST | Updated 12/07/2013 06:12 BST

Rhino Poaching: We Must Do Everything We Can to Stop It

Kay Burley

Road blocks are just a pain. They prevent you from being where you need to be on time and are hugely frustrating.

That is of course unless they're in the form of a 2,000 kg male white rhino who just happens to be lying across the middle of a dirt road in the South African bush and is determined you won't be passing him anytime soon.

I was travelling in an open-sided Land Rover truck with other safari goers when we came across the massive prehistoric beast sprawled across the road, snoring, not a care in the world.

We all excitedly reached for our cameras and exchanged comments about how wonderful it was to see such an imposing and majestic animal in its natural habitat. He was lucky. We could just as easily have been reaching for a gun.


Sadly, there are millions of humans who want to see rhinos dead. Most of them are in the Far East. Humans who think the horn of the white or black rhino can be ground down and ingested to improve their sex lives, cure cancer or ward off evil spirits. Humans who are prepared to pay heavily-armed poachers to shoot and maim these animals, hack off their horn and ship it half way around the world to China. It's the new drug trade in Africa, a multi-million dollar industry that commands $65,000 a kilo for rhino horn. An average rhino horn is about 5kg. It's not hard to do the maths.

So far this year more than 200 rhino have been killed in the country. Poachers bristling with armoury sneak across the border from Mozambique determined to hunt. They often walk 60km, weighed down with AK47s, machetes, explosives, anything the hunters think they'll need to bring down the mighty animals. The more brazen and better organised even use a helicopter to scour the landscape for the increasingly rare rhino. When they spot one, they dart it from the air, land, kill the animal, hack off the horn and are back over the border before the anit-poaching team have had time to put on their boots.

Last month during a high profile event at one of the Sabi Sands safari lodges, the poachers saw their latest opportunity. While the party was in full swing, they killed a pregnant female, macheted off her horn and left her almost full term but as yet unborn calf to die. She wasn't the first and won't be the last this year.

rhino poaching

As a result, if this trade is allowed to continue at its present toll then the death rate of the white rhino is likely to exceed the birth rate by 2016. In other words, if the poachers continue to win the battle then the rhino could be extinct in THREE years time.

Of course, it's a shame, but why should the rest of the world care? Surely there are lots of other animals to see in Africa? Well, it's also impacting on them too. Lions, leopard, cheetah, hippo, elephant are all increasingly unsettled by the poaching and are heading away from the national parks. No animal sighting, no tourists.

South Africa relies heavily on its tourism trade and so the government has begun to take notice. Jail sentences are increasing for poachers, but only if they're caught and only if there's enough evidence against them. More often than not, they walk free with a fine.

The safari lodge owners have now begun their own fightback. They have settled

on a programme of colouring the inside of the rhino horn pink making it impossible to sell to the Far East. It doesn't hurt the animal - it's the same as painting your finger nails - but it does hurt the poachers in the pocket. The good news is that a huge percentage of the rhinos in the Kruger National Park have now been treated with the pink dye.


I learned all of this from my Ulusaba ranger as we took the long route around our rhino roadblock to leave the reserve and I returned to the UK wondering what I could do to try to help with his plight.

Surely, if there was no demand, the poachers would have no-one to sell to and the slaughter would stop. Perhaps celebrities highly influential in the Far East like David Beckham or Psy could help hammer home the point that rhino horn is nothing more than hair. It doesn't improve your sex life. It doesn't cure cancer and it doesn't ward off evil spirits. It does though allow an animal to protect itself from other rhinos, lions, buffalo or humans - unless of course those humans have a gun.