451 rhinos poached in South Africa during 2021

White rhino cow and calf in grass

A total of 451 rhinos were poached in South Africa between January and December 2021, the Government of South Africa confirmed in a statement released on Tuesday 8 February 2022. This is a 13% increase on the number of rhinos killed by poachers in the country during 2020 when local and international travel restrictions were thought to have played a significant role in decreasing poaching. Despite the depressing rise in poaching cases last year, there were, at least, fewer rhinos poached in South Africa last year than were poached in 2019.

Cathy Dean, CEO of Save the Rhino International, says,

“In 2020 we were thankful that the pandemic had, at least, brought some good news for conservation. But these latest figures have confirmed our fears that the effects were short-lived. South Africa’s rhino population has dropped dramatically in recent years. And now poachers are moving into new areas that have been hit hard by Covid-19. 

Many rhino reserves have only just about made it through the pandemic so far, with income from tourism, their main source of support, almost entirely cut off. Rhino security is expensive. Private reserves and national parks are struggling to have enough funds for everyday maintenance. Many simply won’t be able to protect their rhinos much longer if they can’t secure more funding. We’re extremely worried.”

Here are the key points from the Government’s statement:

  • Poaching has declined significantly in Kruger National Park, thought to be due to increased anti-poaching activity in the Park, including dehorning. However, Kruger’s rhino population has also declined significantly in recent years
  • While Kruger has seen a decrease in rhino poaching and there were zero rhino poaching cases in other national parks, poachers have moved to new areas, and now seem to be targeting smaller private reserves. Increases were seen in six of the country’s nine provinces, with significantly more rhinos poached in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, and the Free State (see the table below for the full breakdown)
  • There were 189 arrests relating to rhino poaching activities in 2021. Of these, 77 were in Kruger National Park. There were 61 successful convictions of poachers and/or rhino horn traffickers, some of which carried sentences of more than 35 years

As rhinos continue to be targeted, local, national, and international collaboration must be at the heart of future action. We are pleased to see that the South African Government’s release shared their intent to work closely with others to protect rhinos across the country. Only with an integrated and connected approach will we be able to turn the tide on poaching and begin to see South Africa’s rhino population grow.

Provinces and National Parks
% change (2020-21)
Kruger National Park 504 421 327 245 209 -15%
Marakele National Park 0 1 1 2 0 -100%
Gauteng 4 2 5 2 2 0%
Limpopo 79 40 45 18 38 111%
Mpumalanga 49 51 34 13 39 200%
North West 96 65 32 19 32 68%
Eastern Cape 12 19 2 0 0 0%
Free State 38 16 11 1 24 2,300%
Northern Cape 24 12 4 1 1 0%
Kwa-Zulu Natal 222 142 133 93 102 10%
Western Cape 0 0 0 0 4 40%


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