In 2007 only 13 rhino were poached in the country, about the average annual number since 1990. In 2008, the number rose sharply to 83, in 2009, to 123, and so on. This year — which isn’t over yet — 585 rhino have been illegally killed in South Africa.
Local news bulletins regularly report macabre discoveries of rhino carcasses with bloody holes carved into their snouts, deadly firefights between game rangers and heavily armed poachers deep in the bush, or the arrest of Asian “tourists” caught leaving the region with suitcases full of horn. Angry citizens have formed pressure groups to lobby government, raise money for rhino protection, and demonstrate noisily outside courthouses where suspected rhino criminals are on trial. That’s what they were doing when an impassive, shaven-headed Lemtongthai stood in the dock to receive the strictest sentence ever imposed in South Africa for wildlife crime: Framing the rhino as a symbol of Africa and poaching as an affront to African pride, Judge Prince Manyathi sentenced him to 40 years.
Conservationists were elated, some calling it the sort of deterrent that was required to put an end to the carnage. But their joy didn’t last long; a week later, 11 rhino were found on a single day at two private ranches northwest of Johannesburg. Investigators arrested suspects in a poor neighborhood nearby — among them a game ranger — as a newly orphaned baby rhino, found wandering alone in the bush, was taken to an animal sanctuary.
It’s amazing (and appalling) how much of the world’s animal slaughter can be traced to the sexual and medical insecurities of Asian men.