Rhino Numbers in Botswana Surge as Army Helps Beat Poachers

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The population of rhinos in Botswana rose sixfold in a decade to 153 in 2014 as the southern African nation moved the animals to sanctuaries and deployed the army to protect them from poachers.

Botswana had 26 of the animals 10 years ago, the country’s statistics agency said in a report published Tuesday in the capital, Gaborone. The study refers only to white rhinos as black rhinos were declared extinct in Botswana in 1992, although some are kept in conservation parks.

“The increase in white rhino population is attributable to the government’s management efforts, which include translocation to secure sanctuaries, and engaging the Botswana Defence Force in combating the escalating poaching incidences,” the agency said.

Poachers killed a record 1,215 rhinos in neighboring South Africa last year, part of a global illegal wildlife and logging trade that the United Nations estimates is worth as much as $10 billion a year. The horns are sold by criminal syndicates in Asian countries including China and Vietnam, where they are sought after because of a belief they can cure diseases such as cancer. The last white rhino reported killed in Botswana was in 2013, according to the statistics agency.

“We have advanced intelligence reserves at work and if any threat comes here, it is very dangerous for them,” Map Ives, Botswana’s national rhino coordinator, said by phone from the northern border town of Kasane. “Everything is getting stronger and we are putting more defenses in place. We have no doubt that the syndicates are highly organized, and we are too.”

Environment, Wildlife and Tourism Minister Tshekedi Khama announced in March that the government was training a Rhino Squad of specialized law enforcement officers.

“Our rhinos are quite safe and we are bringing the numbers back to where they once were historically,” Ives said.