South Africa has by far the largest population of rhinos in the world and is an incredibly important country for rhino conservation. However, from 2007-2014 the country experienced an exponential rise in rhino poaching – a growth of over 9,000%.
Poaching numbers are still high, but will a recent decline in South African poaching mark a new dawn for rhinos?
In January 2018, at 10:00 local time, Minister Edna Molewa from the South African Department of Environmental Affairs, released the 2017 poaching numbers from across South Africa. 1,028 rhino were poached in 2017, a slight decline (26) from the 1,054 animals killed in 2016.
The latest reports from the Department of Environmental Affairs reveal that South Africa may be winning the war against Rhino poaching as 'only' about 500 rhinos were poached in South Africa in the first eight months of 2018, a 26 percent fall from 691 in the same period last year.
This maintains a downward trend since 2014 when a record 1,215 rhinos were poached in the country, but the scale of the slaughter suggests demand remains strong in Asian markets where the horn is prized as an ingredient in traditional medicines.
Why are Rhinos Poached?
For their horns! Rhino poaching has escalated in recent years and is being driven by the demand for rhino horn in Asian countries, particularly Vietnam. Rhino horn is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, but increasingly common is its use as a status symbol to display success and wealth.
There’s no reason to celebrate: 1,028 rhinos killed in South Africa alone during 2017 works out to be nearly three rhinos killed every day. While poaching is down in Kruger National Park, it is significantly up in other provinces, particularly KwaZulu-Natal.
Although it is encouraging that poaching levels are not escalating, losses are still extremely high, the outlook for rhino population growth severely impacted, and poachers are proving adept at changing their target sites and trafficking strategies.
Furthermore, there are continuing and worrying signs that poaching gangs are increasingly moving beyond South Africa’s borders and gaining a foothold in other African countries – many of which have fewer resources available to protect wildlife. We’re certainly not out of the woods yet.
Reasons for the decline include a mobile radar system used to detect poaching activity that the department said in a statement had “ensured the decrease of rhino poaching in high-density areas by more than eighty percent”.
Poaching and drought have also reduced the population so there are fewer rhinos for poachers to target. The Kruger National Park is estimated to have around 5,000 rhinos now, down from around 9,000 in 2014, according to government figures.
Fulcrum, which uses a geospatial technology was developed by a team located in St Petersburg, is being used to fight poachers in Northern Kenya.
South Africa rhino poaching drops sharply but hundreds still being...
Estimates vary but South Africa is believed to have up to 80 percent of an estimated global population of over 20,000 rhinoceroses, making it the center of the poaching crisis. There is an international ban on the trade in rhino horn.
In 2007, only 13 rhinos were illegally killed for their horns in South Africa, but the numbers then surged to meet demand as affluence grew in Asian economies such as Vietnam and China. A total of 1,028 rhinos were poached in 2017 in South Africa.
Initiatives to stem the poaching wave have included plans to relocate and breed new populations on Texas ranches to educational campaigns highlighting the animals’ plight.
Jim Nyamu has walked across Tanzania and Zambia by foot and is now in Zimbabwe, before he proceeds to Botswana and then South Africa finally. He is ra…
Content: Save The Rhino, African News
Images: Eric Oteng (African News)