Kenyan ranches relocating rhinos in fear of poachers

May 11, 2012 by Stephanie Aglietti
Two male rhinoceros are seen pasturing in the savanah at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, in 2010. Kenya, which has the world's third largest rhino population -- around 600 black and 300 white rhinos, is constantly battling poachers. In 2009, it suffered its worst year for rhino poaching when 12 black and six white rhinos were killed.

Claus Mortensen is a private Kenyan rancher with a passion -- endangered rhinos -- and now a mission: to save his herd from slaughter by ruthless poachers who sell their horns to Asia, where they are prized as a miracle drug.

But costs are spiralling for Mortensen and other ranchers as they battle to keep one step ahead of the hunters and guarantee the survival of rhinos, and , on their expansive, remote reserves.

"Seeing a dead rhino is terrible," said Mortensen, who runs Mugie ranch, around 300 kilometres (186 miles) north of the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

"Mugie is located in such a remote corner that to secure it we need many more and ," he said.

Twenty rhinos were reintroduced to the 18,000-hectare (44,000-acre) sanctuary in 2004. Four years later, poachers struck, killing one animal and hacking off its .

"It happened again and again," said Mortensen, explaining that his and other ranchers' work has changed from basic conservation to intelligence gathering operations aimed at deterring poachers.

Graphic factfile on the global underground trade in poached rhino parts

And the change has pushed up bills: private ranchers have had to triple the number of rangers working their reserves and it now costs an average $1,200 (900 euros) a month, up from $150, to keep one rhino alive.

"All night, all day... you have your telephone on, radio on, next to your bed and when somebody calls your heart stops beating," Mortensen said.

Kenya, which has the world's third largest rhino population -- around 600 black and 300 white rhinos, is constantly battling poachers. In 2009, it suffered its worst year for rhino poaching when 12 black and six white rhinos were killed.

The is driven by the voracious Asian and Middle Eastern demand for the animals' horns for use in traditional medicines for fevers, and as an aphrodisiac.

The horns mainly contain keratin -- a substance also found in animal hooves, human nails and hair -- and despite having no medicinal value, demand continues to rise.

"The increase, escalation of poaching is driven by the growing influence of the Asian economy. There is a legal market for illegal horns," said Patrick Bergin, the director of the Washington-based African Wildlife Foundation (AWF).

"It is a complex phenomenon. Poachers are from international gangs and have sophisticated arms -- and they are ready to do anything," said Patrick Omondi of the state-run Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).

A kilo (2.2 pounds) of rhino horn can cost as much as $60,000 (45,000 euros), according to KWS estimates.

This file photo shows rangers getting ready to start their early evening patrol, in 2010, in an area of the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in central Kenya, in an effort to stem night poaching of rhinoceros. In 2009, Kenya suffered its worst year for rhino poaching when 12 black and six white rhinos were killed.

The KWS has transferred 11 of Mugie's rhinos to a park near the shores of Lake Victoria, and will relocate the rest to another more secure private ranch.

Poachers have also hit Kenya's renowned rhino sanctuaries in Laikipia, on the equator in the foothills of snowcapped Mount Kenya.

According to the British-based conservation charity Save the Rhino, the area has the largest population of rhinos in East and Central Africa, with 49 percent of Kenya's black rhino population and 70 percent of its white rhinos, but resources at the area's sanctuaries have been stretched fending off the marauding gangs.

"Private sanctuaries do not have enough money. They cannot afford to protect the rhinos," said Mordecai Ogadam of the Laikipia Wildlife Forum.

Between 2007 and 2011, Kenya lost 75 and so far this year, 12 have been killed, according to Kenya wildlife officials.

Authorities have arrested several suspected and confiscated weapons and traps, but their efforts do not seem to deter the gunmen.

Despite a ban on rhino horn trade by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which took effect in 1975 and now has 175 members including Kenya, the world rhino population has almost been wiped out, with 90 percent lost since the 1970s, according to the AWF.

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JRDarby
3 / 5 (2) May 11, 2012
There is a huge illicit trade in often-dangerous substances, fueled by ancient superstitions, and it is having a very negative effect on Earth's ecology. The article didn't mention this, but it is not just any country exercising the most demand. CHINA, because of its cultural history and sheer number of residents, is the biggest perpetrator. Its government seriously needs to develop some variety of education program designed to counter this rubbish.

Endangered tigers, pandas, and other animals are killed for their penises (which apparently serve as magical cures for impotence); endangered rhinoceroses are killed for their horns (which, by the way, contain only the same material found in human hair and fingernails); black bears are kept in cages and "milked" for their bile through a permanent hole to their gall bladder (and have been known to attempt suicide); and human body parts, including human fetuses, are dried and ground into powders. Look up Traditional Chinese "Medicine."
JRDarby
3 / 5 (2) May 11, 2012
I make no attempt here to excuse the West of its many and obviously barbaric practices in regards to the human relationship to other animals (including other humans). Nor do I ignore the perpetration of cruelty against animals in other cultures (like in the Kosher and Halal slaughter of animals in two similarly ancient desert religions) in order to pick on one segment of the human population. But the fact that China has a population of over ONE BILLION PEOPLE, many of whom despite formal and modern education persist in this sort of stupidity, indicates that it would have a chance to make a huge effect on this trade were reasonable changes to be made in their education and enforcement. The problem is that the Chinese government doesn't care, probably in no small part due to the money they are making and the equal hold of traditional beliefs over those in government as over rural peasants, so nothing will change.
JRDarby
3 / 5 (2) May 11, 2012
And please don't mistake my motive: I'm not trying to assert a theory of cultural or ethnic superiority. I realize that many Westerners ignorantly hold on to a romantic 19th century notion called "homeopathy," which is functionally similar to TCM in some ways. Likewise, the West has a notorious history of abuse and brutality toward animals; as a Texan, I've seen it in person at a cattle auction and a rodeo. We may not boil fish alive for fun before eating them (it's a growing trend in China; look it up), but we have our share of the blame. But the fact that our own national and cultural guilt is implicated in the attack on Chinese animal abuse in no way detracts from the message.

I understand the concept of "might makes right," but we have ultimate control over the type of culture and society we as a species will develop. Is this really the sort of society we want on Earth? Do we want our relationship to the Other, human or non-human, characterized by violence, cruelty, and apathy?
Sinister1811
1 / 5 (4) May 12, 2012
It's not just Rhinos either that are being hunted for Chinese medicine. Sharks are also being killed for their fins, elephants are being hunted for their tusks, bears for their bile and tigers for their bones. Traditional Chinese "medicine" is something I have never agreed with.