The South African Government have released the official rhino poaching statistics for the period of January to June 2017.
On the face of it, the numbers tell a story of containing the rhino poaching crisis - 529 rhinos killed versus 542 for the same reporting period in 2016. That is to say 13 fewer rhinos were poached than at this stage last year. So while not a huge success in terms of reducing the level of poaching, surely we should celebrate the success of not letting the number of rhinos lost increase? Of course we should, but is there another message hidden behind these numbers?
To answer that, we must look at the numbers in more detail, and start with the statistics for Kruger National Park (KNP), the rhino population that has traditional bourn the brunt of rhino poaching in South Africa. The official statistics released show that for the reporting period, 243 rhino carcasses were found in Kruger. This is compared to 354 for the same period in 2016 - a 34% reduction. This is indeed good news and is testament the anti-poaching strategy that has been implemented in the world famous park, although we should also note that the rhino population in KNP has reduced as a result of the high levels of poaching over the last nine years and the translocation of up to 500 rhinos from the park.
So if KNP has seen such a significant decrease in poaching, what does that do to the numbers for the rest of the country? Here is where the reality starts to hit home. If you exclude the KNP numbers for both last year and this year you will see that the level of rhino poaching outside of KNP has increased by more than 50%! Worst hit has been the KwaZulu-Natal province, and in particular the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi park (HiP), home the second largest population of rhino in the country.
What is clear is that we cannot focus on just one location as the poachers will move to 'easier' targets as the risks in KNP become greater. It is more important than ever that the national parks, provincial parks and provate rhino owners work together in an aligned manner, for the good of the rhino.
The Government's medial relase also stated that 353 alleged poachers and trafickers have been arrested in 2017. It was encouraging to see the Minister make reference to the number of convictions and not just the number of arrests. It was noted that the Skukuza Regional Court has been sitting since March 2017 and has in total handed down a total of 95 years imprisonment to 22 perpetrators. We would encourage the Government to release more detailed statistics on total convictions versus arrests made. We would also like to see how many of poachers arrested were out on bail following a previous arrest.
We also make reference here that many of our colleagues working tirelessly every day on the ground are sceptical about the accuracy of these official statistics, with many believing the reality is there are many, many more rhino victims than reported in this latest official update. It is worth noting also that the criteria for a rhino to be included in the official numbers is very specific.
The following rhino deaths DO NOT get included in the numbers:
At Helping Rhinos we believe we must continue to identify initiatives that are working in certain areas and look to roll out similar strategies into other hard hit areas. Our goal is to save a species, and when we have methods that work we must invest in these initiatives. Our work with key programmes in the field is aiming to do just that.
Let us draw from the results in KNP and other areas that have enjoyed success, such as the impressive results of the Black Mambas and the black rhino breeding programme at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, and start to deliver results that can not be doubted. We have done it before and we can do it again!