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South Africa hardens its stance on rhino trophy hunts

A rhinoceros lies dead after being killed at Krugersdorp Nature Reserve outside Johannesburg July 14, 2010.

REUTERS/Handout/REUTERS/Handout

Alarmed by record levels of rhino poaching this year, South Africa is launching a crackdown on one of its most lucrative tourist attractions: trophy hunting.

So far this year, 324 rhinos have been illegally killed in South Africa, usually shot by organized gangs of criminals who sever the rhino horns for trafficking to Vietnam and China. The slaughter this year is expected to far exceed the record total of 333 rhinos killed by poachers last year.

So far this year, 324 rhinos have been illegally killed in South Africa, usually shot by organized gangs of criminals who sever the rhino horns for trafficking to Vietnam and China. The slaughter this year is expected to far exceed the record total of 333 rhinos killed by poachers last year.

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In the latest poaching attacks this week, two rhinos were shot dead in world-famous Kruger Park, and another rhino survived 11 gunshots on a farm in Limpopo province.



Rhinos can still be hunted legally in South Africa when a permit is issued, and some sports hunters – often from North America – pay up to $100,000 for the chance to kill a rhino in South Africa. But the permits are sometimes abused by unscrupulous operators in the hunting business.



To crack down on abuses, the South African government is imposing new rules on hunters. All legal rhino hunts must be supervised by a conservation official or an environmental inspector, and training sessions will be organized for officials who issue permits.



To prevent the illegal export of rhino horns, trophy hunters will be obliged to have microchips implanted in any rhino horn that they want to take home, and the environmental inspectors will be required to register the microchip numbers with the government immediately after every hunt.



If any hunter or hunting operator is under investigation for violations, the new rules will allow authorities to deny them a permit.



The government says it is considering a complete moratorium on all rhino hunting in the country "as a last resort" if there are "clear abuses" of the permitting system.



Only about 21,000 rhinos survive in Africa today, and about 90 per cent are in South Africa, which rescued the species from near extinction a century ago. But rhinos are under severe threat from booming demand in Asia, where their horns are widely seen as a cure for many illnesses – including cancer – even though rhino horns consist mainly of keratin, the same substance found in human hair and fingernails.

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Rhino poaching has soared dramatically in South Africa in recent years. In 2007, only 13 rhinos were killed by poachers, but the number has increased exponentially every year since then.



And poaching is also on the rise in the rest of Africa. Three rhinos were killed in Kenya in the past two weeks alone.

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About the Author
Africa Bureau Chief

Geoffrey York is The Globe and Mail's Africa correspondent.He has been a foreign correspondent for the newspaper since 1994, including seven years as the Moscow Bureau Chief and seven years as the Beijing Bureau Chief.He is a veteran war correspondent who has covered war zones since 1992 in places such as Somalia, Sudan, Chechnya, Iraq and Afghanistan. More

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