Rhino Evacuation Planned for Hundreds in S. Africa: Page 2

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Authorities spend about $2,000 (1,600 euros) to track and catch a rhino, said Hofmeyer. Fees include helicopters, drugs and personnel, but exclude transporting the animal.

"The cost implications vary," he said.

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A year ago the government gave the green light to studies exploring the possibility of legal trade in rhino horn. No decision has been taken on the matter.

South Africa has more than 18 tons of rhino horn stockpiles, according to figures given by the department of environmental affairs in 2013. In April, a safe owned by a regional parks agency was broken into, and around 40 rhino horns were stolen, raising fresh questions about the illicit trade.

Journalist Julian Rademeyer, author of the book on rhino poaching Killing for Profit, said it had been clear for a long time the relocations would happen.

"It was something that had to be done given the entrenched problems," he said, referring to failed efforts to curb poaching. "It harkens back to some of the plans in the 1960s and 1970s that were instrumental in bringing the white rhino population back from extinction," he told AFP.

The country has also relocated 1,450 rhinos from the park in the past 15 years.

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But Rademeyer warned that while breaking up the population would make it harder for poachers to find the animals, there would always be illegal hunters from poverty-stricken areas around nature reserves like in Mozambique.

"You're dealing with communities where there are very few opportunities, where corruption is rife, places that are steady recruitment grounds," he said. "The social problems that are helping to foster this situation and that are providing poor people that serve as poachers... aren't going to go away."

Courts have handed stiff sentences to poachers, but police rarely catch the masterminds behind the illegal hunting and trade.