A STUDENT has spent time with armed rangers in South Africa to highlight illegal rhino hunting.
Tony Ellis charted the work of the anti-poaching teams through photographs.
The student, who currently studies at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, was embedded with a unit working in the Kruger National Park, which covers more than 7,300 square miles.
Mr Ellis, 31, of Alfred Road, Ore, is in his third year studying a photography degree, said: “My trip to South Africa was an eye-opening experience. The extinction of the rhino is almost certain now, it’s just a matter of time.
“With poaching attracting sophisticated criminal networks using helicopters, night-vision, tranquilizers and silencers to kill rhinos at night, the challenge faced by game parks and reserves is huge.
“These new levels of organisation and resources have never before been seen in poaching syndicates and, in response, a new attitude to law enforcement is emerging.”
The ranger who Mr Ellis, a former Hillcrest School pupil, accompanied was formerly a member of South Africa’s special forces.
He said: “Those caught poaching commonly get a warning or a 150 rand (£14) fine from the local police, which is not a major deterrent.
“The majority of the firearms are traced back to the police and it is believed that this is the main source of illegal weapons trading. This co-operation between poachers and corrupt police explains the ineffective warnings and very low fines that arrested poachers face.
“The ranger told me that the guys who are taking the highest risk by tracking the rhinos and then killing them, see about 25,000 rand (around £2,300). The fact that this beautiful and incredibly valuable animal shares the land with a local population who can be living on less than 50p per day, you begin to see the motivation for these people.”
Rhino horn is commonly being sold for up to £22,000 per kilo. The high price is now due to its demand in China and Vietnam for use in traditional medicine.
Poaching hit an all-time high in 2010 with an estimated 333 rhinos killed last year in South Africa alone. It is feared that the entire species could be wiped out by 2025.