Poachers Kill Off Kenya’s White Rhino Herd, But Not Without A Fight
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) _ Park rangers shot it out with poachers who gunned down at least five white rhinoceroses and made off with the animals’ valuable horns, killing off the species in Kenya’s public lands, authorities said.
A newspaper reported today that two rangers were seriously wounded in the battle Sunday night with about 30 poachers at Meru National Park, 140 miles northeast of the capital Nairobi.
The poachers escaped after hacking off the rhinos’ horns, which can sell for up to $24,000 each in the Far East, where they are used to make traditional medicines. In the Middle East, the horns are fashioned into ornamental dagger handles.
″People watched over them day and night,″ a Kenyan wildlife source said of the rhinos. ″The rangers were wounded trying to defend them.″
According to today’s English-language newspaper The Standard, two rangers were seriously injured in what it described as a 45 minute attack.
Five rhinos were killed, said George Muhoho, minister of tourism and wildlife. Several wildlife experts, who spoke on condition of anonymity, put the number at six.
Thirteen elephants also were gunned down in the last week in different areas, the wildlife sources said.
The killings came despite increased anti-poaching efforts by the government since August, when Muhoho revealed the slaughter of 92 elephants in the previous three months and the government launched a highly publicized campaign to stop the killing.
The white rhinos, which unlike the black rhino are not indigenous to Kenya, were imported from South Africa about 20 years ago to start a colony and lived under guard in a special reserve in the park. There still are an estimated 30 to 40 white rhino on private ranches in Kenya.
The white rhino’s numbers have not been reduced as sharply as have those of the black rhino, which were thought to number more than 60,000 in the early 1970s. Today the black rhino, numbering about 800 throughout Africa, is considered an endangered species.
Most of Africa’s white rhinos live in South Africa, where experts estimate the herd at about 3,000 strong. Twenty-five to 30 of the animals live in a private park in Solio Ranch, near the equator southeast of Mount Kenya, according to the Daily Nation newspaper.
Both types of rhino are a rather dark gray, with their visible differences lying mostly in horn size and lip shape. The white rhino’s horn is longer.
Kenya sent a paramilitary unit to Meru National Park to track the rhinos’ poachers, said a government wildlife source. He declined to provide details.
Gunmen in the last week slaughtered and hacked the tusks off five elephants in southeastern Tsavo East National Park and eight elephants in the arid Mathews Range 155 miles north of Nairobi, the sources said.
Their deaths bring to about 150 the number killed since April, according to published data. Wildlife officials estimate the toll is much higher.
Studies by the Nairobi-based U.N. Environmental Program show that in the past 15 years, Kenya’s elephant population has dropped 85 percent. An aerial survey in February of Tsavo Park and its environs found fewer than 5,500 elephants, down from 35,000 in 1974.
Experts blame the intensifed slaughter on an all-time high of ivory prices, which have climbed steadily since the early 1970s and average about $82 per pound.