JOHANNESBURG — Park rangers in South Africa are cracking down, hard and with lethal force, on rhinoceros poaching. Nine alleged poachers have already been killed this year by rangers, more than in all of 2010.
The increase in the number of poacher deaths has gone hand-in-hand with an uptick in the number of killings by poachers of rhinos for their horns, which fetch top dollar in Asia where they are prized for their purported medicinal powers.
The rangers fire on poachers only in self-defense, insisted Bandile Mkhize, chief executive of KwaZulu-Natal parks and a former top manager at South Africa’s premier Kruger park.
“The major problem is that the poachers are heavily armed,’’ he said. “Do we allow them to shoot our rangers as well as our rhinos?’’
Last year, 333 rhinos were illegally killed in South Africa, nearly three times as many as in 2009. Park rangers have responded by stepping up training and patrols. South African army troops are expected to join antipoaching patrols this year in Kruger, which is the size of Israel and is in the northeast part of the country near Mozambique.