South Sudan’s civil war has eliminated the nation’s population of rhinos through poaching, officials have said.
Major General Philip Chol Majak, director general of the country’s wildlife service, said there were 1000 rhinos in the country before the crisis, but the species is now “finished” in South Sudan.
“Teams sent to Shambe [National Park in Lakes state] failed to find any, only footprints,” he told Anadolu news agency.
Majak said some of the animals may still be alive but fled to Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia to escape shooting and poaching.
The Wildlife Conservation Society’s deputy director for South Sudan Michael Lopidia said no rhinos have been seen in surveys carried out across the country.
“They were there before the war, but now we have not seen a single rhino,” said Lopidia. “We believe they were all wiped out by poachers.”
Anadolu reported that between January and March 2015 there have been 15 cases of poaching involving high ranking military officials, while two South Sudanese men were arrested on 8 June at Juba International Airport trying to smuggle rhino horns to Asia.
Rhino horn is used by some people in Asia and other places as medicine. Rhino horn is made of the same material as human fingernails.
Majak said the legal affairs department is “bogged down” and not pursuing the wildlife trafficking cases.
“Cases of wildlife are not being pursued and people are just being released,” he said. “We came up with a proposal that wildlife should have a special court. There was resistance from the ministry of legal affairs.”
Majak added that other wildlife crimes may be taking place unrecorded because much of the country is inaccessible due to the violence.
“The worst thing with this war is that there are areas we do not have access to, like the rebel areas,” he said. “We do not know what is happening there.”