Latest rhino stats shocking

Since the alleged rhino war started a decade ago, more than 6 000 rhinos have been poached in South Africa.

From this number, poachers have killed just more than 80 rhinos in the Eastern Cape.

Div de Villiers, senior manager at the Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism, announced this statistic in Port Elizabeth just two days before World Rhino Day.

With him Matthew Norval, COO of Wilderness Foundation Africa, also spoke about how 90% of all rhino horn that leave the country illegally are being exported to Vietnam.

According to Norval the demand has shifted from medicinal to a status piece, and is even being used as currency. He adds that the Wilderness Foundation is currently working with Vietnamese children that will act as ambassadors to drive home the realities of rhino poaching to local consumers.

De Villiers says he first heard about the big rhino horn demand in the East in 2006.

"I knew that dagger hilts in Yemen were made out of rhino horn, but didn't know much about its other uses."

He adds that no rhinos were poached in the Eastern Cape in the first two years of the rhino war.

The first rhino shooting in the province was reported on 5 December 2008 by Shamwari Game Reserve, said De Villiers.

"I remember the scene. The gun that was used was an AK47 and the rhino was shot full of holes. The carcass was found two kilometres away from the bullet casings. The horn wasn't removed, because the rhino ran away."

Three more incidents followed in 2009, where poachers used darts for the first time.

"We could see it immediately at the scene with all the blood, because the darts don't kill the rhino immediately. The rhino is awake, his heart is beating and pumping blood while his horn is being removed."

The attacks and modus operandi that followed was much more sophisticated and planned, said De Villiers.

"These days poachers have many resources. What we see these days are big caliber guns, like the .458 and .375 guns, being used on big wild."

In stark contrast to the first years, poachers now try to kill as many rhinos as they can in one attack. Even rhino calves, with no signs of a horn yet, are being maimed by the poachers.

"The scenes aren't getting easier. It's horrible and difficult, but we push through so that we can pick up clues."

It was also this determination that led to a breakthrough in 2016 that led to the arrest of three men in Grahamstown. The men were caught with a 72 cm rhino horn, drugs, a dart gun, rations and machetes in their possession. They have been linked to 60 other rhino poaching cases in the country and will be tried in Grahamstown's high court on 30 October.

According to De Villiers only one killing in 2016 led to the arrest. So far two rhinos has been poached in 2017.

"Rhino poaching in the province would have been much higher if it wasn't for dedicated men and women that do patrols, secretly infiltrate organised crime syndicates, analyse data, put dossiers together, prosecute poachers, hold awareness campaigns and raise funds."

"Whether we can keep this up for the next decade, would be interesting. But we don't have any other choice if we want rhinos to survive."