THE BLOG

Behind the Scenes of Rhino Poaching

08/06/2013 12:35 pm ET | Updated Oct 06, 2013

For every rhino that is poached, there are numerous dedicated people working tirelessly behind the scenes. Some take care of the calves that are left orphaned and often injured after a poaching. Others run investigations to try to bring individuals from every level of the complex criminal syndicates to justice, often coming across horrifying discoveries during the year plus it takes to build up a case. You miss all of this when you just look at figures -- the unfathomable work and pain of so many individuals. These people have to watch the poachers, middlemen, and end users they are fighting get off with negligible bail. Bail is a joke to these criminals, considering how money they just made by killing and commodifying an innocent wild animal. Unfortunately, most people are completely oblivious of all of this. Many people are even oblivious to the rhino poaching crisis happening in southern Africa completely.

Investigating officers have a grisly, difficult, and often upsetting job to do after a poaching. They arrive on the scene and look for bullets in the gory carcass, determine if there is a calf and find it if there is, and search the area for evidence. The scenes they arrive at are often horrifying. When poachers take a rhino's horn, they hack deeply into their faces to get as much of the horn as possible, and do so quickly and crudely. They may or may not actually kill the animal as they chop deeply into their face, and animals wake up in shock and pain, with half their face missing. Poachers will also use Temik, often called two-step, to poison water holes and kill and dehorn rhinos that way. This poison is so strong that animals can only take "two-steps" before dying of respiratory failure. This technique kills not only rhinos, but any other unfortunate animal that drinks there: investigative officers discover hundreds of poisoned animals near the water. The former officer I spoke with described watching a mother baboon cuddling and rocking her baby as it died from the Temik, before dying herself. These are the kinds of ghastly scenes that investigating officers have to deal with on a daily basis, as they slowly try to numb themselves to the gruesomeness. The former officer I spoke with said that while he got as used to it as a decent human being could, it slowly but surely wore him down and he eventually changed jobs. He stayed for such a long time to ensure that the animals would be in trustworthy hands before he was replaced. The rest of us and the animals are so lucky that there are selfless people who will stay to do this taxing job, and make sure it is done right.

Huge challenges in investigations include the complexity of the legislation, public prosecutors (who don't know the specific wildlife trafficking legislation), long court processes, and once there is a conviction, insignificant fines. Officers have realized that poachers, who may or may not be easier to catch, are replaceable within criminal syndicates, and instead work to find the middlemen. Nothing could be more frustrating, however, than working for years on a grisly case, only to see the person responsible get off with a light fine -- which happens too often.

The current insatiable demand for rhino horn is creating a lot cases. Every second of officers' time and every cent they receive is necessary and put to good use.

Every time I check how many rhinos have been poached, there has been a huge jump. The latest statistics are 536 killed so far this year. For each of these 536 cases, someone had to go to the scene where a rhino's face had been crudely hacked off, and search the carcass for bullets. Someone had to determine if there was a calf, and search for it. Someone had to comb the grisly scene for any evidence that could lead to the poachers who committed the horrific crime. Someone had to transport the body and bury it. Not everyone can do this burdensome work, but everyone can help spread awareness and raise funds in honor of those that do.