In South Africa, and specifically in Kruger National Park, rhino poaching has increased at an alarming rate during the first decade of the 21st century. This has put the park and its partners under immense pressure to conserve and protect their precious wildlife. In 2019, there were 594 recorded poaching incidents throughout South Africa. According to statistics from the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, the numbers show a decrease of 175 compared to the two previous years (769 rhinos were poached in 2017).
It is estimated that the Kruger National Park is home to some 7 000 to 8 000 rhinos, and unfortunately, they are the largest poaching targets in southern Africa. The park has intensive protected zones, which houses around 5 000 rhinos. According to data from the South African National Parks, during the first half of 2019, 316 were rhinos poached in the area. Around 253 arrests were made nationally related to rhino horn trafficking or poaching. However, many cases from previous years remained unresolved and the market for horn trafficking is still in full swing.
Various organizations, such as Hemmersbach Rhino Force and the 'Save the Rhino' project are heavily involved in protecting rhinos against inhumane practices and illegal poaching schemes.
Twelve suspected rhino poachers were arrested during April 2018 in Kruger National Park. There were 281 arrests made in 2016 while there were 139 in 2017. Due to joint operations between Kruger Park, SAPS and the SANDF, with the additional assistance of community members, more arrests have been made outside than inside the park for the first time. Management are looking at ways to address population concerns on the borders of Kruger National Park. Having 2 million people with an unemployment rate of 50% living next to the park, may result in an increase in poaching as a way to increase income.
Reflecting on Rhino poaching statistics in South Africa for 2017 it appears that while Rhino poaching has decreased in Kruger National Park, it has increased in other South African provinces including KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Cape, Mpumalanga, Free State and North West Province. A total of 1028 rhino were poached in South Africa from 1 January 2017 to 31 December 2017 compared to 1054 in the same period for 2016 representing a decrease of 26 animals.
A total of 504 rhino rhinos were poached in Kruger National Park in 2017. This is 24% less than 2016. In addition to Rhino poaching, in 2017 there were 67 elephants poached in the Kruger National Park compared to 46 in 2016, showing an alarming rise. In 2017 there were 502 rhino poachers and 16 alleged traffickers arrested nationally. 446 of those were arrested inside Kruger National Park and the reserves adjacent to it. A total of 220 weapons were seized in rhino-related incidents both inside and outside Kruger National Park in 2017. Shocking 21 officials were among those arrests for poaching-related offences. SANParks has now implemented a programme of integrity testing throughout their organisation.
In yet another desperate attempt to save the rhino, some conservancies including the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, have dehorned their orphaned baby rhinos. Poachers believe that the keratin-filled horns possess healing properties, which is NOT the case, and will stop at nothing to dehorn these creatures. For some time now, park managers have considered taking matters into their own hands by dehorning orphaned rhinos. Many park managers believe that this will save the rhino specie from becoming extinct, because poachers will then have no reason to kill them.
Members of the public are concerned whether or not orphaned rhino will endure trauma and pain during the dehorning process, and if the horn will eventually grow back. The standard procedure to legally dehorn orphaned rhino requires a dehorning permit, a veterinary team and nature conservation officials. The procedure then invloves darting the orphaned rhino, attaching it to an oxygen machine and monitoring its vital organs. To avoid damage to their nerves and sinuses, a line is drawn where the horn is to be cut. A chainsaw is then used to make a precise cut along the drawn line. The rough edges are then smoothed out with a grinder, ensuring that the dehorned rhino will not injure one another.
As of March 2017, a proposal for the domestic trade of rhino horns has evoked mixed emotions among private rhino owners and those against rhino poaching. South Africa plans to allow the domestic trade and limited export of rhino horns. Once implemented, draft regulations will allow foreigners in possession of permits to export for personal purposes to a maximum of 2 rhino horns. Critics believe that the exported horns would be extremely difficult to monitor and the horns will eventually end up on the commercial markets, which goes against the global agreement to protect the endangered rhino populations.
According to minister Edna Molewa, rhino poaching in 2016 has declined while the poaching of elephant has increased. Between January and late August, a total of 458 carcasses of rhino were discovered in Kruger National Park in comparison to the 557 that were found during the same period in the previous year. However, the national total of poached rhino in the year 2016 is 702 compared to the 796 that were poached during January to July 2015. Although the national number of rhino poaching has declined, in areas such as KwaZulu-Natal, Free State and the Northern Cape rhino poaching activities increased. "We are pleased to announce yet again, as we did in January and May, that poaching is on the decline in the Kruger National Park – the area hardest hit," Molewa said. A total number of 414 arrests of alleged poachers have been made in the country since January 2016. Among the arrests, 177 were made in Kruger and 237 in South Africa. A large number of firearms we also confiscated in the park.
As of March 2016, 25 arrests have been made in KwaZulu-Natal related to rhino poaching. As rhino become more scarcely, the demand for the rhino horn increases and according to the General Manager of Rhino security in KZN the demand is now at an all-time high. "There's one key thing that drives rhino poaching - that's the demand. If the demand is high, the supply has to be there and the better we get at our jobs. "The demand raises the price. The price of the rhino horn product has risen exponentially and it is very hard to deal with," he said. The past week 6 people have been sentenced who were involved with rhino poaching and are facing a collective of 75 years imprisonment.
In July 2014, the carcass of a dehorned white rhino bull that, belonged to SANPARKS, was found on a farm adjacent Mapungubwe Nattional Park. During an autopsy it was discovered that the bull had 2 bullets in its brain. Further investigations led to the buy of the rhino horns in Kwa Mahlanga near Pretoria. During the transaction for the horn, the seller was offered an estimate amount of R80 000 per kilogram for the horns. A sting was set up to arrest those involved. The rangers of South Africa refuse to give up on their ongoing battle against rhino poaching in South Africa and Kruger National Park. Despite the rescue efforts and extra funding, rhino poaching is now at an all time high, leaving conservationists with no choice but to dehorn rhino in order to protect the species. Protecting rhino from poachers has become part of the South African Government's National Development plan, as well as its environmental assets. Four Squirrel helicopters and new night vision equipment are among the latest efforts by the rangers of Kruger National Park to fight the battle against poaching.
Poachers are currently winning the battle as rhino poaching increased by 30% in Kruger National Park, as of October 2015, yet the rangers of KNP insists that this battle is still far from over. A number of rhino will be moved to safer locations in private game reserves to protect them from poachers. The rangers of KNP believe that there are 12 - 15 groups of poachers that operate within the park. They hunt in groups of 3 and are armed with hunting rifles and silencers. The Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre rescues and cares for young rhino that are orphaned. The location of these young orphaned rhino is a secret as one of the orphans were already victim to poachers. The orphans are kept under 24-hour surveillance and their progress can be witnessed via the live rhino cam at Africam. http://www.africam.com/wildlife/baby_rhino_live_channel
The recent increase in rhino poaching has resulted in numerous discussions over how to combat this threat to wildlife. Nature conservationists support the theory that the translocation of rhino to safe havens will save the species from poachers, whereas government officials remain skeptical as to whether these operations are worth the time, money and effort. Environmental Affairs Minister, Edna Molewa, voiced possible solutions to the problem of rhino poaching. She said "South Africa is considering a range of rhino strongholds, inclusive of national parks, provincial reserves, communal areas and private reserves" and added that the Department of Environmental Affairs was also looking into the benefits of moving some rhino out of the country.
South Africa is currently in talks with neighbouring Botswana and Zambia about possible translocation of rhino to these countries. Sam Ferreira, South African National Parks' large mammal ecologist, said that up to 500 rhino could be removed from the country. Out of the 631 rhinos that had been killed by poachers between January and 6 August 2014, a shocking amount of 408 were killed in the Kruger National Park. Ferreira said that in order to protect these species, they would have to be removed from areas where they are in threat of being poached.
An organization called Rhinos Without Borders has emerged following the struggle to save the ever-decreasing rhino populations. The organization aims to raise funds and move 100 South African rhinos to Botswana, where poaching statistics remain relatively low. Initiated by a couple, Dereck and Beverly Joubert, who have worked with National Geographic in Botswana's Okavango Delta, the organization plans to start the translocation process in January 2015. Two tourism companies, Great Plains Conservation and &Beyond (who have recently moved rhino), will assist Rhinos Without Borders in this conservation attempt. The idea of moving these endangered species to safe havens is one that seems plausible and along with the growth and improvement of Botswana's Defense Force, should prove to be a successful operation.
However, along with these strategic plans comes an inevitable list of challenges. Financial funding is the major obstacle standing in the way of the implementation of the translocation project. Transporting one rhino from South Africa will cost about $45,000. The removed rhinos will be donated to the Botswana government, creating an additional loss for South Africa. Despite this, moving the rhino to the neighbouring country seems like a much smaller risk than leaving these grey giants exposed to the brutality of poachers.
Along with fund-raising, safety is another major concern. The placement of the rhinos needs to be carefully and secretively carried out to avoid attacks by poachers. The 100 rhino that are to be moved will be moved at different times and to different places to ensure that Botswana's Defense Force can cope with the newfound pressure being placed upon them.
In May 2014, South Africa had signed a cross-border hot pursuit agreement with Mozambique, granting each country the right to follow through in an attempt to capture suspected perpetrators. According to national police commissioner, Riah Phiyega, South African Police Service units have already started pursuing rhino poachers from the Kruger national park into Mozambique. The Kruger National Park's eastern border is currently the most threatened part of the park and shares a border with South Africa's neighbouring country, Mozambique.
A fence is soon to be erected in an attempt to keep poachers from entering the park. The battle between rangers and poachers is an ongoing one. Despite the involvement of the police, game rangers are often the first to come across these intruders and confront these well-armed poachers. The results of these encounters are often fatal - at the disadvantage of the game reserves and the war against rhino poaching.
Q&A: Can Airlifting Rhinos Out of South Africa Save the Species? (National Geographic) http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/08/140801-rhinos-south-africa-kruger-botswana-poaching-parks/
Kruger Park rhinos to be moved to strongholds, other countries (City Press) http://www.citypress.co.za/news/kruger-park-rhinos-moved-strongholds-countries/
SA may legalise rhino horn trade (News24) http://www.news24.com/Green/News/SA-may-legalise-rhino-horn-trade-20140630
558 rhino killed so far this year (News24) http://www.news24.com/Green/News/558-rhino-killed-so-far-this-year-20140710
Celebrities rally against rhino poaching (News24) http://www.newsit.co.za/2014/07/03/celebrities-rally-against-rhino-poaching/