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A passerby looks at a picture that is part of a campaign to save the rhino in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo credit: Michael Tatarski / Mongabay

Graffiti Campaign Inspires Protection of Endangered Rhinos

By Michael Tatarski

Throughout the month of March, a unique graffiti campaign popped up on the walls of several streets in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, the hyperactive commercial capital of Vietnam. The works differed from the usual tags and designs that adorn urban areas around the world. The graffiti pieces, 17 in all, carry a simple message: "Save the rhinos" or "Cứu tê giác" in Vietnamese.

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Disastrous Decision for Rhinos: South Africa's Top Court Lifts Ban on Rhino Horn Sales

As a result of South Africa's highest court rejecting a bid by the government to keep a ban on the sale of rhinoceros horn, it will soon be legal to buy and sell the land mammals' horns in the country.

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Photo credit: Parc Zoologique de Thoiry

Rhino Shot Dead by Poachers at French Zoo

A young white rhino was killed after being shot in the head three times by poachers who broke into the Thoiry Zoo in Paris Monday night. Poachers de-horned the 4-year-old rhino, named Vince, and left alive two other white rhinos, 37-year-old Gracie and 5-year-old Bruno. They left part of Vince's second horn, leading local police to believe they were ill-equipped or interrupted. The poachers are still at large.

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Photo credit: World Wildlife Fund / South Africa

1,000+ Rhinos Poached in South Africa for Fourth Straight Year

South African rhino poaching numbers for the last year show a decline for the second consecutive year due to concerted conservation efforts. However, there is still a long road ahead as Africa continues to lose an average of three rhinos a day to the ongoing poaching crisis.

In 2016 alone, 1,054 rhinos were reported killed in South Africa. This is a slight decline from 1,175 in 2015 and 1,215 in 2014. The 2016 figures represent a loss in rhinos of approximately 6 percent in South Africa, which is close to the birth rate, meaning the population remains perilously close to the tipping point.

Rhino poaching figures over time graph—South Africa. World Wildlife Fund / South Africa

"The continued assault on Africa's rhinos year after year shows the need to redouble efforts across the rhino horn trade chain," Ginette Hemley, senior vice president of wildlife conservation at World Wildlife Fund, said. "Two straight years of modest improvement in South Africa indicate that enhanced anti-poaching efforts are having some positive impact. However only when all involved countries take serious action will the rampant killing of rhinos end."

Criminals kill rhinos for their horns, which are mistakenly believed to cure a variety of ailments from fevers to blood disorders to hangovers.

Other major rhino range states in Africa have reported declines, with 61 rhinos reported killed in Namibia, down from 91 in 2015. South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe are home to nearly 95 percent of all remaining African rhinos.

South Africa's Kruger National Park, home to the world's largest white rhino population, successfully achieved a decline in the number of poached rhinos last year, despite an increase in the number of reported illegal entries into the 4.8 million acre park.

These latest figures highlight the impacts of poaching sweeping across South Africa as criminal syndicates shift their focus in response to law enforcement actions. Key populations in the South African province KwaZulu-Natal bore the brunt of the poaching, with 161 rhinos killed in 2016—an increase of 38 percent from the previous year.

"Governments and law enforcement officials must do more to reverse the low-risk, high-reward nature of rhino horn trade and other wildlife crime," Hemley continued. "Stronger enforcement and tougher penalties for offenders at every level, including poachers, buyers and transnational trafficking syndicates, is required to disrupt this devastating black market trade.

"Vietnam in particular must step up and do its part to stem the unchecked flow of rhino horn into its markets. If it fails to do so, the international community must follow through on its commitment to hold the country accountable through wildlife trade sanctions."

We Need to Act Now

Wildlife crime is the most immediate threat to wild rhinos, elephants and tigers. Demand for rhino horns—along with elephant ivory and tiger products—runs rampant in parts of the world, particularly in Asia.

The World Wildlife Fund works to stop rhino poaching and emphasizes the need for not just law enforcement response, but also involvement of local communities around protected areas.

Together, we need to commit to long-term demand reduction efforts to protect rhinos.

Take action to stop wildlife crime.

The Greater One-Horned (or Indian) Rhino has thick, silver-brown skin which creates huge folds all over its body. Its upper legs and shoulders are covered in wart-like bumps, and it has very little body hair. Photo credit: International Rhino Foundation

Desperate to Protect Rhinos, Rangers Shoot Poachers in India

With legal immunity, Rangers at Kaziranga National Park (Kaziranga) in Assam, India can shoot poachers to protect the Indian one-horned rhinoceros. While the number of rhinoceroses killed has now dropped, the human shooting policy—started in 2013— remains controversial.

Local villagers and tribal peoples' rights organizations, including London-based Survival International, feel the poacher-killing program is out of control. In 2015, 16 rhinos were killed compared to 23 people, raising concerns about "extrajudicial executions," according to the BBC.

Rhino horn is highly valued as a medicinal and cultural product in multiple countries including China and Japan, where it can cost more than gold. Poachers come from crime syndicates and poaching gangs, who recruit locals. In response, India's rangers have long been uniformed, with arms, and given license to prosecute offenders in the parks, according to Quartz.

Kaziranga has made great strides in rhino conversation. Only a few of the one-horned rhinoceros were living 100 years ago when the park was established. There are now more than 2,400, or more than 75 percent of their world population. Kaziranga is the area's main tourist attraction, the BBC reported.

Rhino and ranger in Kaziranga National Park Robin Pagnamenta

When the amount of rhinos poached in Kaziranga reached 27 in 2013, M. K. Yadava, then director of the park, penned a report proposing the poacher-shooting initiative. To justify his beliefs, he wrote "Crime against man, an animal which is found in great abundance and one who is largely responsible for destroying nature and ecosystems, must take a back seat when crime against mother nature is on the examination table."

The current park director, Dr. Satyendra Singh, told the BBC, "First we warn them—who are you? But if they resort to firing we have to kill them. First we try to arrest them, so that we get the information, what are the linkages, who are others in the gang?"

Human rights campaigner Pranab Doley is investigating the park's record keeping relating to the poacher shootings and has found it quite lacking. Many of the poachers killed are listed as unidentified and forensic reports are missing. "We don't keep each and every account," a senior Forest Department official told the BBC.

Kaziranga National Park RangersDavid Reid

Several cases drew added attention to this policy, including the killing of a disabled man who wandered into the park and did not respond to a verbal warning, the shooting of a child in the leg and the alleged torture of an individual later deemed to be innocent.

In the first case, the family of little means felt unable to pursue a case against the rangers, who have significant government protection against prosecution. The park paid the medical bills and offered other compensation to the family of the boy who was shot, and it denies the torture accusations. An added danger for locals is that in some areas, there are no signs or fences to mark the edge of the park.

This conflict continues to embroil conservationists, government officials, native locals, animals, human rights organizations and poachers. The shooting policy may also be in violation of the 2006 Forest Rights Act, which, in part, "grants legal recognition to the rights of traditional forest dwelling communities." In related news, plans to dramatically increase the size of Kaziranga entails villager displacement "with little due process" and "documented cases of violence and even death," according to Quartz.

India isn't the only country fighting poaching. Check out this video from the Hemmersbach Rhino Force working to end poaching in Africa:

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