The Nairobi based conservation centre of the African Wildlife Foundation, in short AWF hosted a continental meeting during the week, aimed to discuss strategies on protecting the rhinos, now under assault like never before.
Prices for a kilogram of rhino horn have risen to an all time level of as much as 50.000 US Dollars, pricier than even gold, and with nearly 450 rhinos killed last year in South Africa alone, now a hotbed for organizied commercial scale poaching, NGOÂs and conservationists from around the world came to Nairobi to seek solutions.
Helen Gichohi, President of AWF, said in her statement: ÂWildlife authorities, private land rhino reserve owners, conservation organizations, and others have made valiant efforts to halt the rhino poaching crisis, but these disparate actions have sadly been no match for this epidemic that is plaguing AfricaÂ. KWS Chief Executive Dr. Julius KipngÂetich also appealed to the meeting participants to urgently find ways and means to stop the menace, disclosing that in 2011 Kenya lost 24 of the endangered species, while reaffirming KenyaÂs position to continue opposing any form of trade, which according to some participants has led to the increase in poaching in the first place, a thinly concealed reference to what many now see as a failed policy by the CITES Secretariat, caving in to powerful economic pressures from some Southern African states.
KipngÂetich also voiced his doubts over the effectiveness of dehorning as a sole measure to protect the species, as he mentioned rhinos killed even when dehorned, probably out of frustration by the poachers over being defied.
It was also revealed that arrests led to the discovery of ever more sophisticated equipment being used by poachers, like night vision goggles, infrared sensors, state of the art communications equipment using encoded frequencies similar to military issues and the use of high powered rifles including silencers, pointing to a well organized network of buyers ready to facilitate such methods.
The meeting, according to one source from Nairobi, agreed to tackle the problem along several areas, namely extending and expanding support for surveillance and anti poaching activities by the national wildlife management bodies, demands for the strengthening of law enforcement including lobbying national parliaments to pass amendments to existing laws increasing financial penalties and prison terms and to engage with governments in the main Âconsumer marketsÂ of rhino horn Â and ivory for that matter Â to play their part in stemming the tide.
Kenya has stood out by a sharp increase in seizures of ivory and rhino horn and in the recent past killed several poaches in shootouts but sadly also lost at least 6 rangers in the line of duty. Visit www.awf.org and www.kws.or.ke for more details but also look in at www.ugandawildlife.org to see what is happening in Uganda where of late several consignments of blood ivory have been confiscated by officials and suspects been taken to court for prosecution. Watch this space.