A white rhino mother and her calf walk at the waters edge of a dam in a park in the Northwest Province. 010313 Picture: Karen Sandison

Cape Town - The rhino war rages on with 146 animals killed in the first two months of this year.

Last year 1 004 animals were wiped out by poachers to feed the high demand for rhino horn in the East, particularly in Vietnam, where wealthy businessmen buy it to flaunt as a status symbol.

Department of Environmental Affairs spokesperson Albi Modise, who released the latest rhino death statistics, said Kruger National Park remained the area hardest hit, as it had the largest population of rhinos.

Last year the western black rhino was officially declared extinct. Of the 146 rhinos killed this year, 95 were from Kruger.

There were 14 each in Limpopo and North West, 10 in KwaZulu-Natal, six in Mpumalanga, four in the Free State and three in the Eastern Cape.

Modise said 44 people had been arrested this year for offences relating to rhino poaching, 20 of whom were in in Kruger. The next highest was 10 in KwaZulu-Natal.

While the authorities have stepped up the fight against poaching on the ground, particularly in Kruger with its porous international border, critics say more needs to be done to break organised crime syndicates which are controlling the poaching.

Jo Shaw, rhino programme manager for World Wide Fund for Nature-South Africa (WWF-SA), believes South Africa needs to “fight smarter”.

“With more than 1 000 animals lost last year and the poaching rate continuing to increase, we urgently need to see bilateral agreements turned into joint international operations to disrupt the criminal networks embedded in our country,” Shaw said.

She has called for the fight against poaching to take a proactive, targeted approach, and for all law relevant enforcement agencies and criminal justice system to be given enough resources to enable them to combat a crime which she said “threatens South Africa’s security, economy and national heritage”.

Last year WWF released a profile of the typical person driving the rhino slaughter: a 48-year-old businessman in Vietnam, married with grown-up children, who wants to be seen as a leader and believes using rhino horn is a badge of wealth and power.

He would typically offer ground rhino horn to his business partners after a meeting, over a drink, or to friends at a dinner party.

These wealthy men used rhino horn to impress and were “totally disconnected” from the poaching issue.

The value of the horn was simply a symbol of wealth and power, WWF’s survey found. - Cape Times