Poachers using planes to hunt Zimbabwe’s rhinos
HARARE, Zimbabwe — Poachers are using aircraft to hunt and kill rhinoceros, Zimbabwe’s wildlife chief said yesterday, as demand grows in Asia for their horns’ supposed medicinal benefits.
Seven endangered rhinos were killed in southern Zimbabwe from early December to Jan. 19, about one-third of all 22 rhinos poached throughout 2010, said Vitalis Chidenga, Parks and Wildlife director general.
He said the poachers, including local recruits, were well equipped with sophisticated weapons. Five of the rhinos were shot in one park in the southwestern Matabeleland province, he said.
Rhino horn is prized in Asia as a traditional cure for everything from colds to impotence and it is used to fashion ceremonial dagger handles in oil-rich countries in the Middle East.
Chidenga said the southern African nation has about 1,000 surviving rhinoceros, and that extra rangers and soldiers are being sent into their habitats to protect them.
Evidence from sites of the recent killings in Zimbabwe showed poachers were “well organized and well funded.’’ Some “big money’’ syndicates even used light aircraft for poaching missions and reconnaissance.
“This is a regional onslaught and not isolated incidents,’’ Chidenga said.
Wildlife officials in neighboring South Africa say 2010 was an extraordinarily bad year, with 333 rhinos poached, nearly three times as many as were lost in 2009.
Five more rhinos were killed in the first weeks of 2011.
South Africa has more rhinos — more than 21,000 — than any other country.
In South Africa, the trade is lucrative enough for poachers to be able to afford helicopters and night-vision goggles — equipment African wildlife officials often can’t afford.