Big drop in rhino poaching as SA govt tackles syndicates

By February 6, 2020Anti-poaching
Duncan Alfreds, News24 | February 4, 2020

See link for photo & charts.

Rhino poaching in South Africa is on the decline as the government makes a concerted effort to battle the scourge that threatens a critically endangered species.

The decline in poaching has become an established trend as law enforcement agencies cooperated to take down syndicates operating in SA and neighbouring countries.

“A decline in poaching for five consecutive years is a reflection of the diligent work of the men and women who put their lives on the line daily to combat rhino poaching, often coming into direct contact with ruthless poachers,” said Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy.

In 2018, 769 rhino were killed for their horns, but that was reduced to 564 in 2019 – a reduction of 26%. In particular, most of the provinces saw reductions in rhino poaching. Only Limpopo and Gauteng registered increases.

Cost of Rhino Horns

At least 327 rhino were lost in the Kruger National Park alone as a result of 2,014 recorded “incursions and poacher activities”.

According to the department, rhino poaching peaked in 2014 when 1,215 rhino were killed for their horns.

Only 13 rhino were poached in 2007, the lowest number recorded since 2006.

Most of the rhino horns are illicitly shipped to east Asian markets where it commands a price higher than gold per kilogram.

On the black market in SA, rhino horn costs about $6,00 per kilogram, according to National Geographic, and up to 10 times that in Asian black markets.

This means that one of the main drivers of rhino poaching is organised crime networks.

“Because wildlife trafficking constitutes a highly sophisticated form of serious transnational organised crime that threatens national security, the aim is to establish an integrated strategic framework for an intelligence-led, well-resourced, multidisciplinary and consolidated law enforcement approach to focus and direct law enforcement’s ability supported by the whole of government and society,” said Creecy.

The department highlighted the successes law enforcement entities – including the Stock Theft and Endangered Species Unit of SAPS, the Hawks, SANParks, provincial park authorities and Environmental Management Inspectors (Green Scorpions) and Customs as well as the National Prosecuting Authority – in combating rhino poaching and working to secure convictions.

In 2019, 178 poachers were arrested for rhino poaching in the Kruger Park. And nationally, 332 were arrested for both poaching and rhino horn trafficking.

Law enforcement officials confiscated 85 guns in the year and secured a number of high-profile convictions.

Syndicates Busted

In April, the Hawks arrested two men near Hartbeespoort for being in possession of 181 rhino horns. They remain in jail, pending the finalisation of their trial.

In November, three members of a syndicate were also arrested in Klerksdorp and Hartbeesfontein. They were found in possession of 100 rhino horns, as well as tiger carcasses, several weapons and ammunition.

In terms of convictions, 145 people were sentenced to prison terms ranging from two to more than 15 years.

South African law enforcement agencies have also received cooperation from China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Japan to assist in combating wildlife trafficking.

“The success of the operations demonstrates government’s ability to work together in fighting wildlife trafficking in South Africa,” said Creecy.