JOHANNESBURG (AP) — About 500 people gathered in downtown Johannesburg to join the international fight to save dwindling rhino and elephant populations.
They marched through South Africa's largest city as part of global marches for rhinos and elephants that were planned Saturday in 136 cities around the world to mark World Animal Day, according to organizers. The demonstrations were aimed at raising awareness of the international ivory trade and to press governments to implement stricter legal measures to prevent poaching.
"We want the South African government also to make changes in legislation," said Dex Kotze, one of the organizers, who said poachers should not be granted bail. South African authorities have made more than 100 arrests related to poaching and have introduced longer prison sentences but that has done little to deter poachers as 558 rhinos have been killed in South Africa so far this year.
"I've just come back and there is a lack of rhinos," said Noel Thompson one of the marchers who regularly visits South Africa's wildlife parks. The emphasis of the march was also to conserve wildlife populations for future generations and many marchers brought along young children.
The 4 kilometer (2.5 mile) march also called for an end to the hunting of captive lions. In other countries, protesters attached various causes to the global effort. Marchers in Paris called for the protection of tigers.
In Nairobi, Kenyans marched for increased protection of the country's wildlife.
"These are Kenyans from all walks of life, the judiciary, the police, universities, students from high schools, all the NGOs to say no more poaching, no more trafficking of ivory," said Paula Kahumbu, the chief executive of the animal group Wildlife Direct.
In the weeks before the march, activists delivered letters to embassies of countries such as Vietnam and China, where the ivory trade is legal, to demand stricter measures against smuggling.
AP video journalist Josphat Kasire contributed to this report from Nairobi, Kenya.