What is poaching…it is the illegal killing of an animal for its body parts, either for consumption or for selling its body parts for monetary gain. Poaching occurs worldwide and is a multi-BILLION dollar market. Examples of poaching are:

  • Elephants in Africa and Asia for its Ivory tusks
  • Rhinos of Africa and the far East for its Horns
  • Lions for their body parts
  • Tigers for their body parts
  • Primates for use in medical research
  • And the animal list goes on and on…

There are four basic methods of poaching:

  • Poisoning of waterholes, pumpkins, melons and lacing carcasses.
  • Snaring, this is a torturous method of killing and animal. A noose with a slipknot is made of strong wire, placed in a feeding area or a traveled path by animals. As the animal passes through this area its leg, or head will become ensnared and the harder the animal tries to get free the wires tighten all the more. Often the poacher never gets back to the snare he had set up and the animal dies several agonizing days later.
  • Immobilizing drugs (M-99), this drug is used by veterinarians to treat sick or injured animals, and also to move them from one location to another. Because tusks, horn, and body parts are so valuable some vets have given into the crime of supplying M-99 to the poachers. This method of poaching is terribly cruel. When darted with the M-99 drug the Rhino goes down within 5-10 minutes. The Rhino is still alive, can see and feel but cannot move. The ruthless poacher goes to work with his panga (machete) or hatchet and cuts the horn off the nose of the animal deep into its nasal cavity. Very few Rhinos survive this but some live for 3-4 days in tremendous pain. Poachers are ruthless and do not care!
  • AK-47 automatic gun is the most common poaching method. Recently it has been found that poachers are fitting rifles with silencers to kill Rhinos. It has also been found in some cases mass killings of Elephants from 50 to over 300 in one fast swoop. One writer recently wrote of a poacher as follows: “If the Rhino has been wounded they won’t use another bullet, they will use the hatchet to strike the Rhino’s back to break its spine. The Rhino will still be alive when the poachers hack off the horn. The squealing must be horrendous. Often the eye of the Rhino is also slashed, a superstition meant to ensure a future successful hunt”. The eyes and sex organs are sometimes taken out for muti, the practice of witchcraft by sangomas, which are called African healers who practice witchcraft. The biggest question is why? Answer…. it is purely human greed and desperation. There are 5 levels of poaching.
  • Level 1 is the actual poacher
  • Level 2 is the buyer and courier of the poached ivory or horn
  • Level 3 is the exporter to move the items out of the country of origin
  • Level 4 is the buyer, importer, seller/distributor of the illegal product
  • Level 5 is the end consumer of the illegal goods for their personal use


It is all economics. The typical poacher comes from a neighboring village next to a park. They are most often younger men in their early 20’s looking for riches. It is said that when one poacher gets killed there are 10 more lined up willing to take a “once in a lifetime chance “ to strike gold. You see, the Rhino horn is worth more than gold. The typical pair of horns on a Rhino’s nose is worth up to $300,000 US or more depending on weight. The average Rhino horns weigh about 4.5kg and bring about $65,000 per kg.

Typically the poachers will talk with people in nearby towns or villages, and ask if there are any Rhinos to be found. If someone gives up this information this poacher may slip him $1,000 depending on the quality of information. The poachers will then go to that area to observe security, traffic in and out, and try to determine two exit routes to follow after the Rhino has been poached. Some poachers have started diversionary fires to try to draw security forces to another part of the area while they poach the Rhino.

When the poachers see a window of opportunity they will move into their target area, make the kill and get out quickly. Poachers prefer full moons because it gives them better night visibility. Because the wealthy criminal syndicates highly profit from these excursions the poachers are often equipped with night vision goggles, GPS, and other expensive equipment. Usually the poachers are in a team of three. It consists of the shooter with the gun or dart gun, the carrier of the hatchet and panga (machete), and the bagman who will carry the horns on the escape. Recently the poachers have been customizing silencers for their guns. It seems the poachers are always one step ahead of the park rangers or reserve owners. Statistically these poachers will escape, meet up with their buyer. They may be paid $10,000 each for perhaps 1-3 nights work. That buyer then meets with the smuggler/exporter to move the horn out of the county a.s.a.p. After this is all done the illegal horn is on its way to Asia, more specifically Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, or China. China and Vietnam are the big drivers behind the illegal Rhino horn market. China, Thailand, and Japan the big drivers in the ivory market.

Now the story of devastation begins. The poachers are now long gone. Rhinos like thick brush with patches of grass in them thus it may take days to find a dead or perhaps severely injured Rhino if she was darted or snared. In this scenario if she has a 1-3 year old calf with her it may be dead or injured also. Either way it is in harms way from the elements and potential predators such as the Hyenas or Lion. Most often these poached Rhinos are discovered by circling vultures. If the poached Rhino is lucky enough to be on a private reserve its chances of survival are much greater than those in a national park. With the discovery of the Rhino (s) the staff go to work. If the mum is alive the vets are called immediately to make determinations about the well being of the animal…. can it be saved, was it lying on one of its legs too long that would have cut off circulation (a lot of weight in a 6,000# animal), is there a calf present, etc.?

Do note that the vets have come a long way in treating these wonderful animals…we will share how in future commentary. An African friend told me that he has seen big strapping men stand over a dead or dying Rhino with tears streaming down their face. As he told me this he had tears in his eyes. If the Rhino is alive and circulation is ok with good veterinary treatment the Rhino may survive.

To many Rhino owners these animals are family thus they often go to extremes to save them. If the calf is alive a decision is made in the field as to their potential survival. If there is hope, a plane is landed and the baby is ferried off to a animal hospital/orphanage where it is given infusions of whatever is necessary to bring it back to a healthy life. If the mother is pregnant hopefully both she and her little one will survive this horrific ordeal.