South Africa is home to 80 percent of the world’s rhinoceros population, yet poaching practices are devastating the species. The first eight months of this year saw 749 killings of wild rhinos – up from 719 last year. South Africa’s recent decision to remove a ban on domestic trading of rhinoceros horns is now leaving many worried those numbers will continue to climb. The United States is taking action against poaching in this region, dedicating millions of dollars to research and training local officials to protect endangered species. Considering the U.S. has become the second largest market for illegal wildlife products and is key in smuggling poached contraband across the Pacific ocean, it is only right that officials take the matter seriously.
The U.S.’ concern is not only for the wild animals needing protection, but also for national security. The same gangs that deal in poached animal parts are also known to smuggle guns, people, and drugs. Delaware Senator Chris Coons (D), who introduced legislation for strategy development based on individual countries, says, “The impacts of this rapidly growing crisis are spreading around the world, now even threatening our national security.”
Some U.S. funding is going to the Endangered Wildlife Trust, who are training officials – normally only used to dealing with street crime and murders – to secure poaching crime scenes and collect evidence for prosecutors. The U.S. Department of Justice also just received $100,000 to train southern African judges and prosecutors to fight illegal plant and animal sales.
Luckily, it has been observed how effective these trainings and supports have been. In Kruger National Park, a prime spot for poachers, officials nearly doubled their arrests over the last few years, catching 138 criminals versus last year’s 81. The funding for night vision goggles, boots, and tents will allow local officials to ramp up their presence and abilities to interrupt even more poaching behaviors in the area. With continued attention from multiple governmental entities, the future of the rhinoceros and other African wildlife may be taking a promising turn for the better.