In early November, a South African court sentenced a Thai man to 40 years in prison after he pled guilty to organizing illegal rhino poaching activities. The high-profile case of Chumlong Lemtongthai will likely have implications for other rhino poachers in South Africa, where more than 222 people have been arrested for the crime in 2012, according to the BBC. If the number of people arrested sounds high, it's because it is. In the last few years, rhino poaching in the country has risen dramatically to fuel an international demand for horns. Officials are doing what they can to stop the increase because violent crime syndicates are often involved.
In a story released today on Yale E360, South African writer and filmmaker Adam Welz takes a look at the numbers behind the increase: "In 2007 only 13 rhino were poached in the country, about the average annual number since 1990," he wrote. "In 2008, the number rose sharply to 83, in 2009, to 123, and so on. This year—which isn’t over yet—585 rhino have been illegally killed in South Africa."
Welz also details the demand in Asia, estimates the amount of rhino horn exported from Africa, and describes the different methods people have proposed to deter poachers. The horn is more expensive than gold in parts of Asia. Welz estimates more than 2.5 tons of horn leave the continent annually. Stopping the poachers is an increasingly difficult task, as the trade includes sophisticated criminals who have gone as far as cutting the horns off live rhinos so they have an extra day to run before circling vultures tip off law enforcement officials to the carcass. Unfortunately, right now the only simple solution for protecting rhinos in the wild is to somehow end the demand.
For a better understanding of rhino poaching in Africa, read "The Dirty War Against Africa's Remaining Rhinos."