If you type ‘rhino poaching’ into Google, you’ll find thousands and thousands of articles dedicated to spreading awareness about the illegal act of killing these animals for their horns.
According to the non-governmental organisation WWF, powdered horn is used in traditional Asian medicine as a supposed cure for a range of illnesses – from hangovers to fevers and even cancer. Rhino horn is also bought and consumed purely as a symbol of wealth.
The latest statistics released by The Department of Forestry, Fisheries & the Environment show that a total of 451 rhinos were poached in South Africa in 2021, 327 within government reserves and 124 on private property.
Even though this shows a 24 percent decrease in rhino poaching compared to the pre-COVID period in 2019, there has been an increase in poaching on private properties.
“In 2021, 209 rhino were poached for their horns in South African National Parks – all in the Kruger National Park. This was in fact a decrease in comparison to 2020 when 247 rhino were poached within the national parks. It is important to note that none of SANParks’ smaller rhino parks experienced any rhino losses from poaching in 2021, in comparison to the 2 rhino that were poached in 2020.
“The steady decline in rhino poaching in Kruger Park is related to an increase in the intensity of anti-poaching activities in the Kruger National Park. A close working relationship between the police’s endangered species unit, the SANParks environmental crimes inspectorate has resulted in increased arrests and convictions,” the statement reads.
Poaching syndicates are looking to other areas for easy prey and this has resulted in their targeting private reserves in Limpopo and Mpumalanga.
What is being done?
Conservation and anti-poaching efforts have intensified throughout the country as a joint effort is made by state-owned conservation areas, government and private landowners to reduce the poaching of rhino in South Africa.
“More targeted deployment of resources is being assisted by the roll out of a CSIR-developed situational awareness platform known as CMORE into the integrated wildlife zones.
“Through this single technology platform all role players are able to collaborate, making use of real-time insights and analytical capability, linking, for example, camera traps and ranger patrols while integrating a range of other systems,” the statement adds.
Information collected and communication flows through the Environmental Enforcement Fusion Centre (EEFC) which continues to support the teams at both a tactical level and strategic level. The analysis capabilities have also improved, resulting in the increased identification of those involved in rhino poaching and trafficking.
In addition, SANParks, provincial nature reserves and private rhino owners are dehorning rhino to deter poachers. SANParks is also investigating the feasibility of additional actions such as anti-poaching initiatives focused on apprehending poachers.
There were 189 arrests made in 2021 in connection with poaching activities: 77 within the Kruger National Park and 109 outside the Park. This compares with 156 people arrested countrywide in 2020. In the 38 verdicts handed down by the courts, 37 cases resulted in the conviction of 61 accused rhino poachers/traffickers.
There is also important work taking place between South Africa and countries implicated in wildlife crime such as:
- A Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) process was successfully finalised between SA and Poland, after receipt of a request from Poland relating to rhino horn trophy hunting in South Africa;
- A controlled delivery between South Africa and Vietnam took place in July 2021, resulting from the work between the Hawks and the Vietnamese authorities on a consignment of rhino horns and suspected lion bones that was trafficked to Vietnam. The operation was successfully conducted and 138kg of rhino horns and an estimated 3 tons of suspected lion bones were seized at Da Nang Port in Vietnam.
Members of the public can report any suspicious activities around wildlife to its environmental crime hotline which is 0800 205 005 or the SAPS number 10111.