American philanthropist Howard Graham Buffett, son of business magnate Warren Buffet, pledged $23.7 million through his privately owned Howard G. Buffett Foundation to help South Africa’s Kruger National Park combat rhino poaching.
The money will be used towards a three-year initiative programme that will examine anti-poaching strategies at the Kruger National Park. If successful, the strategies will later be applied to other regions throughout Africa where poaching is used as a source for funding armed groups. The effort in Kruger will create a protection zone using advanced detection and tracking equipment. Sniffer canine units and highly-trained ranger teams along with intelligence gathering and observation and surveillance systems will watch over the area.
Kruger National Park is currently home to over forty percent of the world’s remaining 22,000 rhinos, the largest single population of rhinos in the world. In 2013 poachers killed 1,004 rhinos in South Africa. Since January of this year, 172 have already been killed, with 113 of those occurring in Kruger National Park. At this rate it is estimated that the African Rhino could be extinct as early as the year 2016.
Rhinos are under threat because of demand for their horn in parts of Asia, where it is used in “ornamental carvings and traditional medicine. Rhino horn is touted as a cure for hangovers, cancer, and impotence,” said the African Wildlife Foundation.
South Africa’s Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, said Pretoria was working with Asian countries such as China, Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos to try to curb the demand. “Fighting and winning the battle in South Africa is fighting and winning the battle in the world,” she said.
“This is very much like our drug war on our U.S./Mexican border,” said Buffett, referring to the campaign by American and Mexican authorities against narcotics traffickers. “When you see what conflict does to people, you cannot turn away. That conflict is fueled by rhino horns, elephant ivory,” said Buffett, referring to the close link between insurgencies and conflicts in Africa and trafficking of natural resources.
“This is a massive boost to anti-poaching efforts to protect rhinos in South Africa after more than five years of a devastating wildlife crime wave in the country that has led to the killing of some 2,747 rhinos,” said Crawford Allen, wildlife crime expert for World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and TRAFFIC, in a press release. “The use of high-tech solutions combined with strong enforcement on the ground can be crucial to end this crisis and tip the balance in favor of rhinos and not poachers,” said Allen.
Criminal syndicates promise cash to poor and unemployed villagers willing to take the risk of hunting down the animals. One American US dollar is equal to 10.7215 South African Rand, making poaching a lucrative business in South Africa.
Retired South African Major General Johan Jooste, who is leading the fight against poaching in the Kruger, said he envisions a hard campaign. “The talking is the easy part, this is not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” he said.
“We are losing the battle all across the continent … we have to fight it every place we can,” Buffett said. “We’re going to do it at a scale that hasn’t been done,” added Buffett.
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