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S.Africa to deploy more soldiers to fight rhino poaching

South Africa will deploy hundreds more soldiers to its borders to crack down on international syndicates blamed for a surge in rhino poaching, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said Sunday.

“We will be deploying a further four military companies on the Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Lesotho borders as of April 2012, bringing the total number of companies to seven,” he told reporters.

Each company comprises 150 soldiers.

“The deployment includes army engineers who are conducting repairs and maintenance on the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border fence, which is approximately 140 kilometres (85 miles),” he added.

Troops were first deployed on April 1, 2011, along the Mozambican border, many of them inside the world-famous Kruger National Park — one of South Africa’s premier tourist draws that has become a magnet for poachers.

Despite their sometimes deadly clashes with poachers, the military deployment has so far failed to stop the poaching crisis. A record 448 rhinos were killed in South Africa last year — more than half of them inside Kruger.

In 2007, the total was just 13, but demand for rhino horn in Asian traditional medicine has rocketed, especially in China and Vietnam, where they are thought to have powerful healing properties.

But rhino horns are mostly made of the same substance as human fingernails, and have no special medical value, say scientists.

South Africa blames the surge in poaching on international syndicates who slip across the vast land borders to kill the rhinos, and then smuggle the horns to Asia.