The exact number of rhinos left in Zimbabwe is a subject of debate. Rodrigues estimates the population at 400, while the British charity Save the Rhino says there are more than 700. Both agree there is a crisis. An official of Zimbabwe’s Parks and Wildlife Management Authority said there “definitely” were more than 400, but declined to provide a figure and acknowledged an “upsurge” in poaching for the horns.
In China, rhino horn is prized as medicinal. Zimbabwe’s trade links with China, according to Rodrigues, are a driving factor in poaching. “We’re now down to about 400 rhinos, black and white, since the opening of the Chinese market,” he said. The horns also are used for ornamental dagger handles in some Middle Eastern countries.
Economic collapse and the breakdown of law and order in Zimbabwe since last year have contributed to a rise in poaching by gangs. Rodrigues noted that “if the carnage continues over the next two years, we’ll have nothing left. The devastation taking place is not sustainable.” The threat to Zimbabwe’s rhinos is to be discussed at a July meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Geneva.
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