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Crime Scene, Kruger National Park

On Sunday, the South African Minister of Environmental Affairs announced that rhino poaching in this country is set to reach a new, macabre record: 393 rhinos have been illegally killed so far in 2015, compared with 331 at the same time last year.

The increase in Kruger National Park, which has the world’s largest rhino population and the worst poaching problem, is alarming — 290 rhinos poached this year versus 212 during the same period in 2014.

Today, two days after the Minister’s announcement, I drove out with South African National Parks investigators, police and a small media contingent to a remote part of the Crocodile Bridge section in the southern part of Kruger, the crown jewel of South African national parks. WildAid is facilitating the visit of a Taiwanese film crew to South Africa, which is producing a Mandarin-language documentary on the poaching crisis.

An investigator’s GPS and a kettle of circling vultures led us across a kilometer of open grassland to a days-old rhino carcass that had already been largely consumed by scavengers.

We observed the process of passing a metal detector over the carcass to find the bullets that had killed the animal, the stripping away of the rhino’s thick skin to see where two projectiles had shattered its ribs, and the break in its spine caused by a poacher’s machete. (If a rhino is wounded but still mobile, poachers will sometimes cut its spine to immobilize it. This saves a bullet and reduces the risk of detection from a loud shot.) It was hard to reconcile the grim scene of the investigation with the beauty of the vast, rolling savanna around us.

Park staff told us that they are now losing between two and three rhino per day, and crime scene investigators have a backlog of cases. The influx of poachers, many from across the border in Mozambique, is unrelenting.

While driving away from the carcass, we came across three white rhinos intermingled with a small group of elephants. They didn’t seem to mind the sound of the vehicle engines, but once they heard our voices, the rhinos backed into each other defensively — horns facing outward, ears up and alert, imposing yet vulnerable as never before.     

WildAid is working in South Africa to educate visiting tourists from Asia about rhino conservation and to build public support for stronger enforcement efforts against poaching. You can help by getting the word out about this crisis: Please tweet or share this post by using the share options at the top of this article.