WWF Says Rhino War Must Be Won in Asia as Africa Plays for Draw

The WWF, an environmental group, endorsed South Africa’s plan to move rhinos from its Kruger National Park to safer sites, while saying the battle to save the species will be won in Asia, where demand for their horns is driving poaching in Africa.

South Africa, home to most of the world’s rhinos, is struggling to protect the pachyderms against poachers, many of whom stream across the border from Mozambique into Kruger armed with automatic rifles and night sights. So far this year 638 rhinos have been poached in South Africa, almost two thirds of those in Kruger, a reserve the size of Israel, compared with a record 1,004 during all of last year.

Demand for the animals’ horns has climbed in Asian nations including China and Vietnam because of a false belief that they can cure diseases such as cancer. The horns, which are more valuable by weight than gold, are largely made up of keratin, a substance similar to that found in human hair. South Africa yesterday said it plans to move rhinos from Kruger to sites elsewhere in the country as well as in neighboring nations.

“We should be under no illusion that despite our utmost efforts under the currently overwhelming illegal demand for rhino horn, the best we can do is play for a draw in Africa,” Morne du Plessis, chief executive officer of the South African branch of the WWF, said in a statement yesterday. “Ultimately, the battle for the future of African rhinos can only be won in Asia.”

There are between 8,400 and 9,600 rhinos in Kruger, according to a census by South Africa National Parks. The population is currently stable with the number of births matching the number of deaths from poaching and natural causes, Edna Molewa, South Africa’s minister of environmental affairs, said yesterday.