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South Africa's rhino war heats up

Attacks on endangered rhinos increase and South Africa steps up protection.

Private security firms have offered protection for rhinos, but some game reserve owners were hesitant about the high cost and nervous about bringing in outside workers. “They don’t know who to trust,” Kotze said.

In South Africa’s North West province, some rhinos have been fitted with GPS devices so that they can be tracked. The GPS chips, inserted into the rhino’s horn, are also linked to an alarm system that will alert game rangers of unusual movement.

Other groups have launched their own efforts to fight the poachers. Conservationists are considering adopting Phila, the black rhino who survived two attacks, as a “poster child” for the cause. They have asked the American rapper 50 Cent, who also survived being shot nine times, to take part in an awareness campaign.

At the recent sex expo in Johannesburg, mixed among the exhibitors promoting adult products was a booth from a group called Mission Rhino, that displayed photos of the devastating effects of rhino poaching.

WWF, the international conservation organization, ran an awareness campaign that included a “Make Noise for Rhinos Day,” where South Africans were asked to blow their vuvuzelas or other types of horns to call for international action against rhino poaching.

The recently retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu has also spoken out about the problem, calling for an end to the “butchering” of rhinos.

“It is robbing our people of their precious natural heritage, robbing our nation of its ecological diversity, and severely embarrassing our nation abroad,” he said.

And a Johannesburg radio station campaign recently raised $150,000 from listeners in a “Rhinothon.” Rhino owners from the Palala area advocated that some of the money raised should help fund protection efforts on private reserves, not just at national parks. In South Africa, an estimated 25 percent of white rhinos are on private land, and owners are facing escalating costs of protecting their animals.

“Us guys are fighting this battle alone," said Kotze. "There’s no government funds.”