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Rhino hunt in South Africa sparks debate

Some conservationists say auctioning off a single permit helps protect the animals; others say none should be killed. Meanwhile, poaching is booming.

January 08, 2012|By Gretchen L. Wilson, Los Angeles Times

The Endangered Wildlife Trust said it does not condemn managed hunting for sustainability, especially if it is done to improve conditions in a local community that otherwise might consider indiscriminate poaching.

"We will continue to support sustainable use as long as it is legal, ethical and that it is done correctly," said Kirsty Brebner, the trust's spokeswoman. "We are not concerned with one particular animal, but rather with the survival of the species, which right now is under threat of being wiped out."

The rise in poaching is believed to be linked to a surging demand for rhino horn in Asia, particularly in Vietnam and Thailand, where it is ground and used by some practitioners of traditional medicine, sometimes in an effort to cure or prevent cancer or as an aphrodisiac. In the Middle East, rhinoceros horns are used to make ornamental dagger handles. On the illicit market, rhinoceros horn can fetch about $30,000 a pound.

Poachers are often backed by international crime syndicates, but they rely on locals to provide information on the terrain and rhinos' whereabouts. The poachers often hunt by helicopter, swooping over grasslands at night and spotting the animals using night-vision goggles.

Often they use darts to tranquilize the animals, then use military-grade weapons to kill them. The poachers saw off the horns with chain saws, leaving the carcasses behind.

Wilson is a special correspondent.

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