Claus Mortensen is a private Kenyan rancher with a passion --endangered rhinos -- and now a mission: to save his herd fromslaughter by ruthless poachers who sell their horns to Asia, wherethey are prized as a miracle drug. But costs are spiralling for Mortensen and other ranchers as theybattle to keep one step ahead of the hunters and guarantee thesurvival of rhinos, and elephants, on their expansive, remotereserves. "Seeing a dead rhino is terrible," said Mortensen, who runs Mugieranch, around 300 kilometres (186 miles) north of the Kenyancapital Nairobi. "Mugie is located in such a remote corner that to secure it we needmany more helicopters and airplanes," he said. |
Twenty rhinos were reintroduced to the 18,000-hectare (44,000-acre)sanctuary in 2004. Four years later, poachers struck, killing oneanimal and hacking off its horns. "It happened again and again," said Mortensen, explaining that hisand other ranchers' work has changed from basic conservation tointelligence gathering operations aimed at deterring poachers. And the change has pushed up bills: private ranchers have had totriple the number of rangers working their reserves and it nowcosts an average $1,200 (900 euros) a month, up from $150, to keepone rhino alive.
"All night, all day... you have your telephone on, radio on, nextto 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 battlingpoachers. In 2009, it suffered its worst year for rhino poachingwhen 12 black and six white rhinos were killed.
The illegal trade is driven by the voracious Asian and MiddleEastern demand for the animals' horns for use in traditionalmedicines for fevers, convulsions and as an aphrodisiac. -- Legal market for illegal horns -- The horns mainly contain keratin -- a substance also found inanimal hooves, human nails and hair -- and despite having nomedicinal value, demand continues to rise. "The increase, escalation of poaching is driven by the growinginfluence of the Asian economy. There is a legal market for illegalhorns," said Patrick Bergin, the director of the Washington-basedAfrican Wildlife Foundation (AWF). "It is a complex phenomenon.
Poachers are from international gangsand 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. The KWS has transferred 11 of Mugie's rhinos to a park near theshores of Lake Victoria, and will relocate the rest to another moresecure private ranch. Poachers have also hit Kenya's renowned rhino sanctuaries inLaikipia, on the equator in the foothills of snowcapped MountKenya. According to the British-based conservation charity Save the Rhino,the area has the largest population of rhinos in East and CentralAfrica, with 49 percent of Kenya's black rhino population and 70percent of its white rhinos, but resources at the area'ssanctuaries have been stretched fending off the marauding gangs.
"Private sanctuaries do not have enough money. They cannot affordto protect the rhinos," said Mordecai Ogadam of the LaikipiaWildlife Forum. Between 2007 and 2011, Kenya lost 75 rhinos and so far this year,12 have been killed, according to Kenya wildlife officials. Authorities have arrested several suspected poachers andconfiscated weapons and traps, but their efforts do not seem todeter the gunmen.
Despite a ban on rhino horn trade by the Convention onInternational Trade in Endangered Species, which took effect in1975 and now has 175 members including Kenya, the world rhinopopulation has almost been wiped out, with 90 percent lost sincethe 1970s, according to the AWF.
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