Dead Poachers: The Side Of Poaching You Rarely Hear About

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Written by Dana Sanchez

Almost 500 poachers have been killed since 2010 by armed game rangers in South Africa’s top tourist attraction, Kruger National Park — mostly young Mozambicans crossing in along the porous, 317-mile border between the neighboring countries,  EyewitnessNews reports.

But that could be changing.

“It worries me that quite a large number of Mozambicans are killed in Kruger Park in poaching activities,” said former Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano. “Each of these Mozambicans dead means more poverty for his family, because they can no longer count on him to fight for better living conditions.”

Anti-poaching groups and conservationists say poaching operations used to be based in Mozambique and launched into South Africa from the east, but that’s changing. Poaching operations are increasingly launched from the western side of the reserve, from South Africa’s heartland, according to CNN.

Kruger Park is at the epicenter of surging rhino poaching. Poachers this year killed about 600 rhinos through mid-August, Lowvelder reported. CNN said the number is now up to 750.

Rhino horn is worth more than its weight in gold, fetching as much as $5,550 an ounce on the black market in countries including China and Vietnam, where it’s a status symbol and believed to have medicinal properties, CNN reported.

Chisano’s foundation is involved in conservation. He did not cite sources for his figures but said 82 Mozambican poachers have died in Kruger Park so far this year, compared with 106 in 2014, according to EyewitnessNews.

Poachers are usually in small gangs and heavily armed with high-caliber weapons to shoot the rhinos.

There are at least 12 poaching groups operating at Kruger Park at any given time, said Johan Jooste, head of anti-poaching operations at South African National Parks, in a report in TheCitizen.

Armed game rangers are allowed to open fire if threatened with lethal force.

Poverty in Mozambique drives some Mozambicans to try lucrative poaching in Kruger Park, but South African villages near the park have also been involved in illegal poaching, EyewitnessNews reports.

Conservationist have tried everything to stop the slaughter of rhinos. They’ve tried poisoning and dying the horns, removing the horns as a protective measure and relocating rhinos from the park to private, fenced-in areas. None of it worked.

A Seattle-based startup hopes to save the endangered animal by creating a synthetic alternative, WorldFinance reported. Biotech company Pembient claims to have a solution to the poaching crisis — synthetic rhino horn that is indistinguishable from the real thing. Conservationists are skeptical.

In June 2014, Mozambique approved a new law with tougher penalties against convicted poachers including sentences of up to 12 years.

It’s becoming increasingly harder to fight poaching at Kruger Park, said Ken Maggs, chief of staff for ranger services, according to TheCitizen.

“We face a poaching squad armed with the most modern equipment, and we must fight them with standard-issue weapons,” he said. “Post-traumatic stress syndrome is becoming a problem. This war against poachers is relentless.”