In just a decade, more than 7,245 African rhinos have been lost to poaching.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.
There’s no reason to celebrate: 1,028 rhinos killed in South Africa alone during 2017 works out nearly three rhinos being killed every day. And 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; gaining a foothold in other African countries – many of which have less resources available to protect wildlife. We’re certainly not out of the woods yet.
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 2016, figures show a dip in poaching in South Africa for the second year in a row, indicating that increased protection efforts are paying off. Although it is encouraging to see South Africa’s poaching levels fall, the losses are still extremely high. A rise in incidents outside Kruger National Park also points to the growing sophistication of poaching gangs that are gaining a wider geographical coverage and – it would seem - expanding their operations across borders.
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 had been had in Zimbabwe, poaching gangs turned their attention to neighbouring South Africa, which saw massive increases in poaching from 2009-2014.
In 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 were hit hard: 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 in two decades.
For now, the global rhino population is still increasing, but only just. Learn more about rhino population numbers here.
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 people living near rhino habitat 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. And captive breeding or intensive management for the rarest species is vital to maintain genetic diversity and prevent the species from dying out.
At Save the Rhino we fund all this work and more. Find out more, and join us!