JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Almost two rhinos are being poached each day in South Africa to meet surging Asian demand for their horns which are now worth more than their weight in gold.
With the death toll in 2012 to date at close to 300, South Africa looks certain to lose far more than the 448 rhinos it lost last year to poachers.
Against the backdrop of this carnage, Clive Walker, one of South Africa's most respected conservationists, and his son Anton, argue in the "The Rhino Keepers" that the global community should seriously consider lifting a ban on trade in rhino horn.
Like America's "War on Drugs", prohibiting the sale of rhino horn has not prevented people from trying to get their hands on the stuff, and they are willing to pay very high prices.
Clive Walker spoke to Reuters ahead of the recent launch of the book.
Q: What prompted you to write the book and take the approach you took?
A: "I wanted to approach the subject with an open, neutral mind because the issue is very sensitive, very controversial."
Q: The crisis is escalating. Do you think rhinos could go extinct in our lifetime?
A: "The species almost went extinct and we were able to bring it back. If rhinos continue to decline at the rate that they are now it would be difficult to say at what point extinction could take place. There are still at least 21,000 white rhino and at least 4,800 black rhino.
"So the concern is not so much the imminent extinction of the species but that the level of crime involved in rhino horn and the trade in it has reached such dramatic proportions in terms of the costs, and whether South Africa which is home to most of the world's rhino is going to be able to get on top of it. It's huge and you are dealing with a country with social problems of immense concern and the government is trying to deal with those as well as trying to deal with a crime revolving around a substance that is wanted in a country far, far away."
Q: What needs to be done?
A: "Anton and I believe that there needs to be cooperation at all levels. The one thing that this crisis has done is to bring people together who are not necessarily all in the same camp. But they are talking about rhinos and that's a good thing.
"We are dealing with the affects but not dealing with the cause. We don't know enough about the market. A lot more attention needs to be paid to the end consumer countries, Vietnam, China. There needs to be a great deal more done with those countries. The use of rhino horn has been in existence for hundreds if not thousands of years.
"There is a western perception of what one should do. But one needs to talk to the people where the rhino horn is ending up. There are other factors which we need to take into consideration which are cultural and spiritual. We are fighting fire with fire now."
Q: What is your next book project?
A: "I am very concerned about water issues in South Africa. I am very interested in the history of the Limpopo River, it arises in Johannesburg most people don't realize that.
"I have studied the river over the last 30 to 40 years and have traveled it from source to sea. It passes through or touches on 3 national parks, 2 international frontier parks, it involves millions of people. It's not a perennial river. But it's one of the most beautiful and it's 1,700 kms long and it affects four countries."
Editing by Elaine Lies