Credit: Save the Rhino International
*The 2019 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 Africa since the peak of 1,349 in 2015. Yet, a rhino is still killed every 12 hours: there is still a lot more to do.
South Africa holds nearly 80% 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
At 594 recorded poaching incidents in South Africa in 2019, poaching numbers have declined significantly in recent years, but are still too high. What does this decline mean for rhinos’ future?
In February 2020 the South African Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, released the 2019 poaching numbers. Thankfully, the numbers show a decrease of 175 compared to the previous year (769 rhinos were poached in 2017).
Unfortunately, this positive – and very welcome – decrease does not mean rhinos are now thriving. On average in the country, a rhino is killed every 15 hours. This is a significant downward trend since 2015, when more than three rhinos were poached every 24 hours. But, despite the good news, the long-term impact of the poaching crisis is taking its toll, as well as the prolonged drought affecting food and water resources.
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 over 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. In recent years, Kruger has continued to be a critical poaching area, though the number of rhinos poached in the Park is going down.
Did you know
the growth in rhino poaching between 2007-2014 in South Africa
In 2019, figures continued to decrease for the fifth year in a row. While it is encouraging to see South Africa’s poaching numbers fall, losses in Kruger National Park continue to amount to more than half of all incidents. With so much effort focused on Kruger, how can more than 320 rhinos continue to be poached?
It is extremely encouraging that more people were arrested and prosecuted than previous years; stopping corruption and speeding up prosection 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.
Did you know
year the current poaching crisis spread from South Africa 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.
For now, the global rhino population is holding steady, but only just.
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.
Could buy a foam mattress for a ranger on patrol in South Africa
Could help purchase a ranger uniform
Could buy a tracking tag for an African rhino