Why are Kruger’s rhinos being hit so hard?

Photo credit Annelize Crawford

The latest official poaching statistics show that a shocking 292 rhinos have been poached in South Africa so far this year (2 May 2013). Of these rhinos, over 73% have been killed in Kruger National Park, it is evident that Kruger’s rhinos continue to bear the brunt of the escalating poaching crisis.

So why, despite the intensive efforts, army deployment, helicopter patrols, drones and increased manpower, is Kruger National Park still losing rhinos at a rate of more than one per day?

Firstly, the Kruger National Park is home to the largest population of rhinos on the planet, the sheer number of rhinos in the Park makes it an incredibly vulnerable target for poachers. However, the main reason why Kruger is being hardest hit, is that the Park shares a long, porous border (356km) with Mozambique, where most of the poachers come from.

Poachers from Mozambique are easily able to illegally slip across the border into Kruger National Park, and even if South African National Parks rangers are able to detect them, they are unable to carry out the ‘hot pursuit’ once the poachers have crossed the border back in Mozambique. During March alone, Kruger Park recoded 72 known cross-border armed incursions from Mozambique. Of the 94 rhino related arrests in South Africa this year, 44 of these have been in Kruger.

In Mozambique, there are no strict penalties for rhino poaching or possession of rhino horn and poaching is simply considered a misdemeanour offence. Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world, and there are many individuals willing to risk their lives to earn money through poaching. The country suffers from high corruption and even Mozambican field rangers have been arrested for rhino poaching.

There was once a fence separating the Kruger National Park from Mozambique. However in December 2002, the presidents of South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe signed an international treaty to establish the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. The treaty resulted several areas of fence being dropped along the South Africa / Mozambique border to increase the habitat for wildlife and encourage animals to roam between the countries’ nature reserves.

South African Sanctuary fenceThere are now fresh calls for the fence to resurrected in a bid to reduce the current poaching onslaught. South Africa, at a ministerial level, is currently involved in ongoing discussions with Mozambique regarding the re-erection of the fence along the border. In the longer term, the huge problems South Africa is experiencing has implications for the wider issue of trans-frontier parks; what happens to wildlife when one country does not enforce security or wildlife crime laws?

In May 2013, there were several news reports that Mozambique had lost all its rhinos from Limpopo National Park. In reality there were few rhino remaining in the country, at the 2011 AfRSG meeting, estimates were that there were 6 white rhinos and 1 black rhino surviving in Mozambique. It is more likely that the rhinos poached were the unfortunate ones who walked across the border from Kruger National Park in South Africa; so the recent reports seem to be referring to South African rhinos that have been poached on Mozambican soil.

Following on from the 16th Conference of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), urgent actions have been directed to Mozambique to tackle its role in the rhino poaching crisis. These include the need to give priority attention to the creation and implementation of effective legislation to effectively deter wildlife crime, prevent the illegal killings of rhinos and possession of rhino horn. Along with Vietnam, Mozambique has been given a deadline of January 31 to implement these actions and submit a report to CITES on its activities conducted.

Over the past few years, South Africa has definitely upped its game in terms of investment in rhino conservation and protection for its rhinos. The challenge facing Kruger’s rhinos will be to ensure that Mozambique directly engages with South Africa, to step anti-poaching operations along the border and improve legislation to make rhino poaching a punishable crime.

Related links

South Africa National Parks – Official poaching statistics

17 thoughts on “Why are Kruger’s rhinos being hit so hard?

  1. I believe all involved are doing what they can,however any new suggestions that can be realised into positive action must be helpful.
    I agree that educating those populations that are at fault , getting their governments on side, and having breeding programmes within those countries are all lmportant measures.
    Maybe these could be partnered with flooding those countries with cheap viagra ?
    Maybe de-horning as well would be wise for all vulnerable animals ?
    But i disagree with selling it legally as that just reinforces the terrible belief and practice, which must be removed.
    Maybe as well, more protection on the ground is necessary.
    I can understand that all my suggestions will be expensive, but what price can one put on losing or saving a magnificent animal.
    Mark J

  2. When we went to the Kruger in December, No one checkrd our car either going in or out. Saw several single Chinese guys driving (racing) around. Why aren’t they searching the cars? Why aren’t the Rhino’s watched by guards?

  3. We are far to civilised to tackle this problem. Yes, education and new approaches are needed but so is tough action. Poison the horn and let it kill the users, raid the Mozambican villagers (the perpetuators are known) and kill poachers on site. Whilst this is being done we might buy time for the holistic approach.

  4. It is a pity rhinos are being poached and I dont condone it. However all of these sites trying to save the rhino are playing on the emotions of ignorant people and dont portray all of the facts. Did you know that both the black and even more so, the white rhino are thriving and increasing in numbers both in and out of the kruger national park. In the 70’s and early 80’s there were less than a thousand or possibly just over a thousand rhino in the KNP. The population numbers are now somewhere between 7000 and 10,000 and increasing yearly. We should take note that there is not enough available space to try and get rhino populations back to what they were in the good old days. Game reserves are overpopulated and maybe its time we started culling them humanely, unlike the poachers, and sell the horns to satisfy the market and keep some kind of control. If and when numbers start to decline then the army could be employed to control the borders along the park (Provided they are not corrupt and start poaching themselves) such as in the old days when our northern borders were controlled to prevent terrorists from entering the country and causing havoc.

  5. A lot of ideas, no real solution. Like most animals rhinos are really special to me. Right now I’m thinking about starting my own campaign. I make animations with own company, CROP. Actually I tried to involve this organisation to help them, for free, with creating an animation that hopefully goes viral but I guess they are to busy with marathons in rhino costumes. An animated short movie is a very strong tool using social media. We need to educate. Who’s with me?
    Check out my website and contact me:

  6. Peter-John your argument holds no ground, there are many more pictures of humans on the internet than there are of rhino. The cause of homeless, trafficked people etc is recognised. But when you have a human population approaching 8 billion at a rapid rate, it is a very small and unfortunate percentage of our vastly overrated species that fall foul of the inhumanities of their species. To me a defenceless rhino, of which fewer than 25000 remain in the “”wild”” has far more value than yet another “”human”” in a pool of 6 billion plus. We as a species are taking our little blue planet to hell in a hand basket faster than the place was supposedly created.

  7. I agree with all the comments, but musnt we look at what is going unnoticed? Human trafficking, street dwellers, and more. we should rather put money into such things. Athena, your children will be able to see rhinos, because there are loads of photos on the web. I would rather save people than Rhinos. I am not saying that the rhinos should also go unnoticed, but we should put more money into the things that are going unnoticed.

  8. I did a documentary last year on rhino poaching for my grade 11 english project. My partner and i were so incredibly lucky to go to Gondwana Game Reserve and find out so much about rhino poaching. It saddens me and sickens me that this is happening and so few people know about this tragedy. I really want to get involved in this struggle in any way. I’m so passionate about raising awareness, especially in schools.

  9. Hi my name is Athena Mauritz I am 8 years old.I am very sad because RHINO.S.A came to our school and told us bad news.In 2030 if i have children they won’t get to see rhinos.People from overseas come and kill our rhinos.Please help us the poachers are killing our rhinos.

  10. Geoff, thanks for your comments. We are investing a lot in environmental education about rhinos & their importance in the ecosystem (for other species, habitat and communities), both in Vietnam and in Zambia and Tanzania. See links here for more info:

    Hope these articles are of interest.

  11. All the reasons that the rhino are poached in the KP are just feeble excuses. I have said time and time again that you have to educate people about rhino conservation, even more so in Asia, and destroy the market. I have approached people and organizations ( even this one) to help me educate and get a positive message out into the world all ignored me. Clearly this is very hard to understand because no one is doing it and everyone is fighting the poachers with guns. for every poacher killed or arrested there are 100 waiting to take his place, the war will eventually be lost to the poachers. The numbers of poached rhino prove that already, despite all the “”ant poaching”” measures in place. If we don’t change the mind set of people we can kiss the rhino good bye…

  12. Until something is done about Mozambique and the villages dedicated to poaching Africa’s wildlife, this will not stop… The government needs to actually get involved and the borders need to be more protected and they need to be able to capture these wildlife criminals in their own damn country, if that is what is happening… That or give the Rangers the right to shot on sight, one less person is not going to hurt this planet. Eye for an eye, a life for a life… simple… except you have to get the government involved on both sides… and i like that idea that that one person made, let a few hundred poisoned horns go through to the black market, they’ll learn quick enough…

  13. It is time for the world to get involved. An all out war on poachers, buyers and Sellers needs to be activated. Like in the days of old in Africa if you were in possesion of uncut diamonds, it was the death Penalty. The same should apply to should now apply to poachers, buyers and sellers of Ivory and Rhino horn. The animals cant do it, so it is up to the civilized world to act and act NOW!!!

  14. Let the biggest markets pay and educate their masses. The Chinese and Arabs (the main markets for the horns for medicinal and conspicuous consumption) are flush with money from high oil crude prices and flourishing export trades. They also spend billions on arms.

    If the Saudi King and Chinese president can relinquish the cost of one stealth fighter (the latest Mig-35s and F-22s), that money is enough to run a broad media campaign to educate their people; even going as far as to setup Rhino breeding programs or sanctuaries in their own countries.

    Exposure to these magnificent creatures will go a long way to convince the
    next generation of Asians and Arabs that live Rhino’s are not unicorns. Their horns do not possess magic powers.

    Let those who taketh the most, giveth back to the world.
    They can afford it.

  15. Why not destroy the market for rhino horns? If the market is gone, rhino poaching will stop. Poison some horns and then release them into the black market. In my eyes, the users will have ceded their right to life anyway. But then, I care far more about the rhinos than the horn-users. Intermittent positive reinforcement is the most effect training tool, so make several releases over a period of a few years. Use different poisons to make it difficult to test and wash the horns. A few anonymous tips confirming the scattered poisonings will enhance the effect and the demand for rhino horns will disappear quickly. Yes?

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