Chinese national found in possession of rhino horn and chucked abalone was arrested at the Cape Town International Airport. File Photo: Chris Collingridge

Conservation organisations have stepped up their anti-rhino poaching activities with the addition of rhino microchipping, the collection of DNA records and the recently opened Rhino Awareness Centre.

Last week the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared 2012 the International Year of the Rhino to raise awareness of the increased illegal hunting of rhinos and the demand for rhino horn.

Dr Joseph Okori, the head of the WWF’s African rhino programme, said 227 rhinos had been poached in SA this year alone.

Okori said that in an effort to curb rhino poaching the programme was supporting the training of game rangers and had issued forensic kits to collect DNA evidence on the scenes or in areas where rhinos were poached.

“We have issued more than 300 kits to date. This is not only in South Africa but also in other rhino states, like Kenya.”

Another local NGO, the Wilderness Foundation, recently opened a Rhino Awareness Centre at the Shamwari Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape. Since having one of the first rhino poaching incidents in the country in 2008, the reserve has committed to helping curb the problem.

The foundation has also started a rhino microchipping and DNA capture exercise. A five-year-old white male was darted to collect information on his horn size and estimated weight. The information was sent to Onderstepoort Veterinary Academic Hospital in Tshwane to be placed on an international database.

“Although the exercise does not necessarily prevent poaching, it has proven to be highly effective in securing convictions in poaching cases,” the foundation said.

Okori said the WWF had also seen the importance of raising public awareness among prosecutors, in a bid to achieve stiffer sentences for rhino poachers.

Okori said the rhino programme was also engaging with the government, which had shown its commitment by pledging support for the International Year of the Rhino.

“We’ve seen commitment in high-level strategic meetings, the appointment of a South African national rhino issue manager, and further political commitment by the South African government to have the MOU (memorandum of understanding) between Vietnam and China signed in a bid to curb the current escalation in poaching and illegal trade,” said Okori.

“The increased number of arrests of alleged rhino poachers also highlights government’s commitment to trying to tackle this issue,” he said. - Cape Argus