Send in the drones

Finweek English Edition - - INSIGHT -

Just like the war on drugs ap­pears to be never-end­ing, so, too, does the battle to con­tain poach­ing. As pop­u­la­tions of rhi­nos and other en­dan­gered species dwin­dle, law en­forcers must face an en­emy that is di­verse, se­cre­tive and run by so­phis­ti­cated or­gan­ised crime net­works. It is a war fu­elled by big money.

In a mar­ket anal­y­sis, in­de­pen­dent con­ser­va­tion econ­o­mist Michael ‘t SasRolfes de­scribes what mo­ti­vates the il­le­gal trade. “We know that poach­ers are mo­ti­vated by the prospect of profit. The greater the ex­pected profit from poach­ing, the greater the in­cen­tive to poach,” he says. “The same prin­ci­ples ap­ply to il­le­gal traders.”

From the mid-1990s un­til 2007, the con­ser­va­tion econ­o­mist re­ports that poach­ing lev­els re­mained neg­li­gi­ble. Then things started to change. “The mar­ket price for rhino horn in Viet­nam has reached ex­tra­or­di­nary lev­els – there are sug­ges­tions that, although highly vari­able, the av­er­age re­tail price in 2011 ap­peared to be in the re­gion of $65 000 [R766 437] per kilo­gram,” states SasRolfes. “This high price has no doubt en­cour­aged a far more con­certed and so­phis­ti­cated or­gan­ised crime el­e­ment to en­ter the rhino horn mar­ket, and this is re­flected in the tenac­ity and meth­ods used by the cur­rent il­le­gal sup­pli­ers.” He is adamant that mea­sures to phys­i­cally pro­tect live rhi­nos are a far bet­ter de­ter­rent than af­ter-the-fact law en­force­ment like the pur­suit of poach­ers, smug­glers and il­le­gal traders.

Ac­cord­ing to off icial f ig­ures cited by Savether­, 1 214 rhi­nos were killed in South Africa in 2014 – that’s more than three per day. De­spite in­ten­sive con­ser­va­tion ef­forts, the death rate is about to over­take the birth rate, which could spell ex­tinc­tion.

World­wide, rhino pop­u­la­tions are un­der se­ri­ous threat: at the be­gin­ning of the 20th cen­tury, there were half a mil­lion of th­ese an­i­mals in six main species groups in Africa and Asia. The

The north­ern white rhi­noc­eros, or north­ern square-lipped rhi­noc­eros (Cer­a­totherium si­mum cot­toni), is one of the two sub­species of the white rhi­noc­eros. For­merly found in sev­eral coun­tries in East and Cen­tral Africa south of the Sa­hara, it is con­sid­ered “crit­i­cally en­dan­gered” or “ex­tinct in the wild”.

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