Kruger National Park is one of Africa’s oldest national parks and South Africa’s flagship. It covers an area nearly the size of Israel and is home to roughly half the world’s white rhinos. It is manned by thousands of staff, who study and protect the animals, and look after the 1.4 million tourists who visit every year.

Yao Ming and Crew in South Africa

Photo by Kristian Schmidt for WildAid

Kruger is home to between 9,000 and 12,000 white rhinos and approximately 600 black rhinos. Given the size of the park and the number of animals, it’s a difficult task to monitor the wildlife, even for the 2,500+ staff members.

The black rhinos are harder to keep and breed than the whites. They are more temperamental and solitary.  From 100,000 in 1960, their numbers in Africa dropped to a low of 2,400 in 1995 before climbing back to 4,880 following a sales ban for rhino horn in China and other parts of Asia and increased protection in Africa.

We meet with the Director of Public Relations for South African National Parks, William Mabasa, who tells us the greatest challenge currently facing the park is poachers from both South Africa and Mozambique. Here elephants have been untouched, but rhinos are being hit constantly.  Things have gotten so bad that now the South African army has been called in. But, finding poachers is still like looking for needles in a haystack.

Between 1990 and 2005, rhino poaching in South Africa averaged 14 animals a year according to trade monitoring group TRAFFIC and the populations were growing steadily. But in recent years, rhino poaching has risen again, with 440 animals killed in 2011, and this year’s figure expected to top 500.

On our very brief visit, we learn of seven rhinos recently killed in a reserve near Pilanesberg and four more in Kruger. Peter Knights of WildAid again apologizes for having to put me through the unenviable experience of seeing the results of this poaching.

We visit the body of a black rhino with Kruger’s Crime Scene Analysis team, searching for clues, like bullets or discarded debris, and collecting DNA samples so that if the horn is found, it can be traced back to here and not claimed to be an old horn.

Yao Ming Encounters Body of Poached Black Rhino

Photo by Eric Steinhauser for WildAid

The smell is so intense that I have to step away. This magnificent beast has been reduced to carrion for a horn.


5 responses

  1. david grondin

    This is a really sad state of affairs when man kills for profit, and does not realize how important Rhinos are to the planet.

    September 4, 2012 at 2:53 pm

  2. Willow

    Thank you for leading this campaign. I read about it in a post on the New York Times article on elephant poaching today. Seeing your effort and the awareness building of the NY Times give me a glimmer of hope that we can save these magnificent and gentle creatures.

    September 4, 2012 at 9:25 pm

  3. Hi Yao, Firstly welcome to South Africa and I hope that your stay hear will be wonderful, We really are an amazing group of people and at the core we are all good people. It is just too terribly unfortunate that within our group there are other groups who appear to be determined to wipe out our Rhino for monetary gain. Again, unfortunately, it appears that only the poachers are being caught and punished (for this we are very greatful) but what we need to do is to unearth the ‘king-pins’ who are leading this slaughter. I hope and pray that your visit to South African parks and Game Reserves will be the beginning of a trickle that will turn into a deluge highlighting the plight of our Rhino (and all the other anmials that are falling prey to this scourge). I wish you well, enjoy the rest of your journey through our lovely land and; get the word out there loud and clear: RHINO HORN IS FOR RHINOS ONLY and, has no medicinal value whatsoever and maybe, just maybe we can stop this abomination of slaughter before it causes yet another extinction on our planet.

    September 5, 2012 at 12:02 am

  4. Lisa Tarr

    Yao having the opportunity to meet our beloved Thandi has made the circle complete for me!! a couple of months ago I found a random fan page of his on FB and pleaded that he might get involved in raising the awareness of the unnecessary and brutal poaching and dehorning of our Rhinos- particularly the moving story of Thandi and Themba. And him being there with Dr. Will Fowls and relive the event is incredible! This amazing journey that Yao is taking must be one of the most effective ways to get the message out there ! THANK YOU!!!!!

    September 5, 2012 at 1:25 am

  5. gloria sapp

    I am so thankful to yao for doing this And he got to meet precious thandi our hero,our beauty.I am so very much involved from the states to make ppl aware of this cruel inhumane activities.Thank you YAO for caring,for seeing the truth,for all that you have done and hopefully about to do We need you so much.The rhinos need you despertately

    September 5, 2012 at 1:02 pm

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