Rhino poaching in South Africa declines for fifth straight year

By February 11, 2020 Antipoaching
Mongabay | February 7, 2020

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South Africa reports that rhino poaching has declined for a fifth straight year in the country, with 594 rhino poached in 2019, down from the 769 rhino killed for their horns in 2018.

2015 was the worst year on record for rhino poaching across Africa, with a little over 1,300 animals killed — 1,175 of them in South Africa.

According to an official press release from the South African government, the decline in poaching in 2019 is due to a combination of measures, including deployment of technologies that allow for better reaction times to poaching incidents, improved information collection and sharing between law enforcement agencies, greater cooperation between entities at the regional and national level, and more meaningful engagement of the private sector, NGOs, and donors.

The release also states that the South African government is taking further steps to strengthen its multidisciplinary approach to eliminating the illegal killing of rhinos. Its National Integrated Strategy to Combat Wildlife Trafficking, which would boost law enforcement efforts to combat poaching of rhinos and other wildlife, as well, is due to be considered by the country’s Cabinet in the first half of 2020.

South Africa also reported a decline in elephant poaching, from 71 in 2018 to 31 in 2019.

“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,” South Africa’s Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy, said in the statement.

Minister Creecy also credited the rangers who patrol conservation areas on a daily basis: “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.”

There were 2,014 incursions and poaching-related activities recorded in South Africa’s Kruger National Park in 2019, leading to 327 rhinos being lost. Some 178 alleged poachers were arrested within the Park last year, while 332 arrests were made throughout the country.

Despite being made of keratin, the same substance as human fingernails, and having no known medicinal properties, rhino horn is highly prized by practitioners of traditional medicine, especially in Asian countries like Vietnam and China, two of the largest markets for illegally trafficked rhino horn. But Peter Knights, CEO of the NGO WildAid, said that demand reduction efforts in these countries have led to higher levels of consumer awareness about the false claims regarding rhino horn’s health properties and caused a significant decline in rhino horn prices, from $65,000 per kilogram to around $22,000 per kilogram.

“The good news is that reported poaching is down and the price of horn in Asia is down by two-thirds,” Knights said in a statement. “However, part of the poaching decline may be the most accessible rhinos have gone and there are less left to poach. We commend South African efforts, but the courts need to be prosecuting traders more effectively because corruption in Kruger Park is still a problem. We also need increased prosecutions of smugglers in neighboring Mozambique, as well as of buyers in China and Vietnam, to make the rhinos safe.”

Dr. Jo Shaw, Senior Manager of the Wildlife Program for WWF-South Africa, applauded the reduction in rhino deaths and said that it was encouraging to see poaching treated as transnational organized crime, while reductions in the losses of rhinos are being connected to cooperation with rhino horn consumer countries such as China, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam. But she added that rhinos are still under threat from organized crime syndicates and the lack of suitable habitat in the long-term.

“As noted by the [Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries], law enforcement efforts alone cannot address the complex social and economic drivers behind the long-term threats to our rhinos,” Shaw said in a statement. “What is required is a commitment to a holistic approach which considers the attitudes, opportunities and safety of people living around protected areas. The role of corruption, inevitably associated with organized crime syndicates, must also be addressed.”

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