*The 2020 African-wide poaching figure is estimate based on current official statistics (these have not been released for all countries).

The current rhino poaching crisis began in 2008, with increasing numbers of rhino killed for their horn throughout Africa until 2015. Thankfully, poaching numbers have decreased across the continent since the peak of 1,349 in 2015. Yet, a rhino is still killed every day: there is a lot more to do.

South Africa holds the majority of the world’s rhinos and has been the country hit hardest by poaching criminals, with more than 1,000 rhinos killed each year between 2013 and 2017.

The latest poaching numbers from South Africa

African rhinos poached 2007-2020

At 394 recorded poaching incidents in South Africa in 2020, poaching numbers have declined significantly in recent years, but are still too high. What does this decline mean for rhinos’ future?

In February 2021 the South African Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, released the 2020 poaching numbers. Thankfully, the numbers show a substantial decrease compared to the previous year (rhino poaching dropped by one third).

However, this positive – and very welcome – decrease does not mean rhinos are now thriving. On average in the country, a rhino is killed for its horn every 22 hours. And, the latest numbers show that rhino populations, particularly in key strongholds such as Kruger National Park, in South Africa, have fallen dramatically. Rhino populations have had no time to recover from ruthless poaching that’s taken place throughout the last decade. The long-term impact of the poaching crisis, and the extended periods of drought, are taking their toll. Without urgent action, their numbers could dwindle.

One of the challenges that the ongoing poaching crisis brings is that it diverts attention from other actions that are important for rhinos to thrive in the future. While anti-poaching measures are still a high priority, it’s important that we don’t forget the other tools in the box: biological management, community engagement, capacity building, national and international coordination, and putting in place the long-term sustainable financing needed for important rhino conservation programmes.

South African poaching explained

South Africa has by far the largest population of rhinos in the world and is an incredibly important country for rhino conservation. From 2007-2014 the country experienced an exponential rise in rhino poaching – a growth of more than 9,000%. Most illegal activity occurs in Kruger National Park, a 19,485 km2 of protected habitat on South Africa’s north-eastern border with Mozambique. Kruger consistently suffered heavy poaching loses, and so in the last few years, the government and international donors have channelled ever more funding and resources into securing the Park. Despite these extra protection measures, the impact of such intense poaching has caused Kruger’s rhino population to drop by 60% since 2013.

Rhino poaching increased by


between 2007-2014 in South Africa


In 2020, the country’s poaching figures continued to decrease for the sixth year in a row. While it is encouraging to see South Africa’s poaching numbers fall, the rhino populations are at tipping point. We cannot afford to lose any more rhinos: we must do everything possible to protect remaining populations to help their numbers increase.

It is extremely encouraging that more people were arrested and prosecuted than previous years; stopping corruption and speeding up prosecution processes continues to be critically important if we are to truly tackle this horrific illegal trade.

The wider African context

The current poaching crisis actually began in Zimbabwe, where the difficult socio-economic and political climate facilitated rhino poaching. Once the easy pickings were taken in Zimbabwe, poaching gangs turned their attention to neighbouring South Africa, which in turn saw huge increases in poaching from 2009-2014.

The crisis began in


in Zimbabwe, before spreading to other countries

Around 2013, the South African crisis spread to other countries in Africa. First Kenya was hit hard: its worst year for poaching was in 2013 when 59 animals were killed (more than 5% of the national population). In 2015, both Zimbabwe and Namibia suffered losses: Namibia lost 80 rhinos to poaching, up from 25 in 2014 and just two in 2012, while in Zimbabwe at least 50 rhinos were poached in 2015, more than double the previous year. For Africa as a whole, the total number of rhinos poached during 2015 was the highest it had been in two decades.

How your support helps

We can’t protect rhinos without your help. There is no magic bullet to solve the poaching crisis: it will take a mix of the best tools we’ve got.

Having well-trained and equipped rangers is an important start. So too is secure habitat and good rhino monitoring, so that we know exactly where the rhinos are, and how they’re breeding. Making sure that the communities living near rhino habitats see and feel the benefits of conservation is another critical factor in preventing people from turning to poaching or encroaching on rhino habitat. Education is important – both in countries where rhinos live, but also in Asia, where consumer demand for rhino horn is highest. Captive breeding or intensive management for the rarest species is also vital to maintain genetic diversity and prevent the species from dying out.

With your support, we can decrease these poaching numbers in the future.

If you can, please consider a donation today.