Aircraft to combat African rhino poaching

Dec. 4, 2012 at 6:44 PM

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Dec. 4 (UPI) -- South Africa says it is preparing to use aerial reconnaissance to combat a massive rise in rhino poaching in its Kruger National Park.

An aircraft with surveillance equipment including thermal imaging will attempt to detect poachers in the huge nature reserve -- home to two-thirds of South Africa's rhino population -- the BBC reported Tuesday.

Organized and armed crime syndicates are targeting the animals, and 588 rhinos have been killed this year in South Africa, conservationists said.

Rhino horns are highly sought for use in traditional Asian medicine despite a lack of any scientific evidence of curative properties, they said.

"The killing of rhinos for their horns does not exist in a vacuum, but is a complex problem where values of tradition and culture have been corrupted in the name of commercial exploitation," Jason Bell, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said.

"Be it elephants and ivory, tigers and tiger parts, rhinos and rhino horn, the endpoint is the same -- profit," he said. "And that profit is being chased down in the most brutal fashion by organized crime syndicates."

The world's largest rhino populations, an estimated 18,000 white rhinos and 1,700 critically endangered black rhinos, live in South Africa.

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