It's now make or break for the future of the rhino

For three days, off and on, we tried to find some of the rhinos living close to our base in the Kruger National Park.

There’s a simple strategy. Locate a rhino dung heap, to which they habitually return, and wait for one to lumber along.

But in our case; we drew a blank.

Rangers had warned us; rhinos are getting harder to spot, even here in their heartland.

One morning we discovered why.

A short walk through the bush revealed the carcass of an adult killed earlier in the week.

It was, we were told by the South African National Parks forensic service, one of four animals butchered in a single night.

Nature had made short work of the huge body. The thick hide and over-sized skeleton was pretty much all that remained.

Of the rhino as a species that has graced the planet for many millions of years, it is legitimate to wonder for how much longer it can survive.

Things are so bad that when South Africa revealed last year’s poaching figures, the fact that 1, 175 rhinos had been killed was heralded as a success.

The year before the loss had been on an even bloodier scale, at 1,215.

To put that into depressing context, as recently as 2007, only 13 rhino were killed across the country.

If you take African as a whole, the numbers slaughtered rose for a sixth straight year, fuelled by demand for rhino horn in the Far East.

Park rangers with a baby rhino. Credit: Stroop

So what is being done? On the front line of the rhino war, Kruger authorities are trying any and every weapon to hand.

On the ground, armed rangers and tracking dogs. In the air, they’re experimenting with drones to spot incursions.

Occasionally there is good news.

Like the baby rhino rescued in our report, filmed for the forthcoming South African documentary, Stroop (Afrikaans for Poached).

But even that silver lining came within the black cloud of its mother lost to poachers.

Rangers on patrol. Credit: Stroop
Dogs are also used to track down rhino killers. Credit: ITV News
A jail in South Africa. Credit: ITV News

Last year, more than 200 were arrested inside the park and another 115 poachers just outside its borders.

But these are the foot soldiers. Rarely, if ever, do the ring-leaders get caught. The men who make big money are it seems beyond the law’s reach.

What is needed, says Ken Maggs, Kruger’s chief ranger, is a coordinated international strategy to save the rhino.

That means engaging local communities in conservation, and it means cracking down on the global corruption that greases the wheels of the trade.

But even if all that can be done, it will take time. And for the rhino, it’s already late in the day.