EWT talks rhino poaching and lockdown (South Africa)

Black Rhino, Southern Africa. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Stephan Lehman, The Kempton Express | October 14, 2020

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While lockdown impacted thousands of SA citizens financially, the Endangered Wildlife Trust noticed a decrease in the number of rhinos poached during this period. The Modderfontein-based conservation organisation noted in the first half of 2020 the number of rhino poached was half the amount compared to the first six months of 2019.

CEO of the trust Yolan Friedmann said according to official figures, rhino poaching in South Africa decreased by around 53 per cent in the first six months of 2020. “Only 166 rhinos were killed since the beginning of the year, compared to 316 during the first six months of 2019.”
In July, minister of the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Barbara Creecy identified that 88 rhino were poached in Kruger National Park (KNP) during the first six months of the year.

Creecy said as the lockdown restrictions were gradually lifted rhino poaching incidents slowly increased. The minister said between January and June, 38 suspected rhino poachers were arrested in the KNP and 23 firearms confiscated.

Fifty-seven suspects were arrested during joint SANParks ECI/SAPS operations outside of the KNP and 18 firearms recovered. Friedmann said lockdown saw a decrease in rhino poaching for bushmeat using snares and poisons increased.

“EWT staff, and associates working in the field, noted a significant increase in the use of snares to catch species such as antelope, bush pig and birds,” said Friedmann. “Secondary consequences of this scourge include the increase in snaring of threatened species such as wild dogs.”

Friedmann said this kind of poaching was attributed to escalating levels of starving people. “Around the country, we noted an increased reliance by many people on wildlife, such as hares, birds and small game for food. “If successful, this kind of poaching could assist with income generation in cash-strapped households.”

She said the lockdown pushed thousands of people to rely on their natural environment for food, income and even medication. “Whether or not the relaxed lockdown regulations will result in a reversal of this trend is yet to be seen,” said Friedmann.

“If not, this could spell disaster for many species who will not withstand the impact of countrywide snaring.”

Friedmann believes by introducing stricter measures at borders, increasing visible policing and the number of roadblocks nationwide, rhino poaching could be reduced.