Film shows horror of Africa's rhino-poaching crisis

JOHANNESBURG Thu Jun 21, 2012 9:59am EDT

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Flies buzz around a hulking pile of flesh and muscle that lies rotting in South Africa's Kruger National Park with its eyes gouged out and scimitar-like horns hacked off in the opening scenes of a shocking new documentary on rhino poaching.

A series of still-photos of other gruesome kills flash across the screen in "Rhino under threat", a deeply disturbing 28-minute film available on video-sharing website YouTube that has been made to drive home the horror of a rhino poaching crisis which has reached alarming levels.

Made by UNTV and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the film can be seen on YouTube on this link: here

It debuted on Monday at the Rio +20 global environment conference in Rio de Janeiro.

South Africa, home to close to the vast majority of the planet's rhinos, is the epicenter of the unfolding tragedy.

According to the latest data from South Africa's department of environmental affairs, as of June 15, 245 rhinos have been poached in the country so far in 2012. At this rate the carnage will almost certainly exceed the 448 slain last year.

A decade ago only a handful were being taken.

Elephant and rhino poaching is surging, conservationists say, an illegal part of Asia's scramble for African resources, driven by the growing purchasing power of newly affluent Asians.

Rhino horn has long been used in traditional medicines in China and Vietnam and the film quotes a doctor at Hanoi's biggest hospital who sings its praises.

According to the film, rhino horns have also been stolen from museums and private collections in more than 15 countries.

It says Vietnam's last wild Javan rhino was poached last year and the slaughter in Africa is relentless.

"It's heart-rending," Ted Reilly, the head of Big Game Parks in Swaziland, says in the film. The small southern African kingdom lost its first rhino to poachers in two decades last year.

"You will find a rhino cow with a baby calf. The mother goes down and that calf usually will defend the mother. It won't allow the poachers to get anywhere near it. And they end up having to shoot it too," Reilly says.

The horn and half the face is then cut off with a chainsaw and Reilly says they have had instances where rhinos who had been drugged then wake up and stagger around in this state.

"How do you deal with people like that?," he asks.

For the game wardens on the front lines, feelings toward them can certainly harden.

"I suppose the brutality of it is being lost on me at the moment. And to survive the emotional side of it one gets hardened. It's like seeing dead poachers now. I've seen enough this year not to worry about them anymore," says one Kruger Park ranger.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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