In an update on the 'implementation of the integrated strategic management', The South African government have revealed the poaching statistics for 2017. The total number of rhinos lost to poachers in South Africa was 1,028, a slight reduction on the 1,054 lost in 2016.
At a first glance, as our graph below shows, this may seem like good news - it is after all the third year in a row when the number of rhinos killed by poachers has reduced. But this most definitely not a time for celebration! The reality is that in South Africa alone over 1,000 rhinos lost their lives to poachers for a fourth consecutive year. This is simply unacceptable!
There is an undoubted positive when looking specifically at Kruger National Park, traditionally the 'hot-spot' of rhino poaching. The numbers here show that 504 rhinos were poached in 2017 versus 662 in 2016 - a 24% reduction. But looking at the picture as a whole, these numbers show that the poaching has moved elsewhere, mainly to KwaZulu-Natal, rather than been eliminated.
Significant focus has been placed on addressing the poaching curse within Kruger, and rightly so. It is after all the largest single population of rhinos anywhere in the world. But surely the authorities must also look to replicate what appears to be a successful model within the world famous park to other key rhino locations, such as KZN's Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park.
It is also worthy of note that the number of arrests in relation to poaching were also down in 2017 - 518 compared to 680 in 2016. With the reduction of poaching within Kruger National Park, and this the main focus of the governments anti-poaching activity, such a reduction in arrests is perhaps not a surprise.
It is also worthy of mention that many individuals working on the ground question the accuracy of the 'official numbers'. These statistics only reflect the number of carcasses found, when of course there could be many more undiscovered carcasses.
As mentioned above, this is not a time for celebration. for the last four years we have at best maintained a status quo, and most certainly have not made significant in-roads into reducing the overall level of rhino poaching.
If we continue on the same course in 2018 it is inevitable we will see the same results for a fifth year in a row.
So what must we do differently?
There is always a lot of of talk about demand reduction, and of course, this is the only long term, sustainable solution to the poaching curse. Education around the world is a key part of Helping Rhinos' work and will remain so in 2018 and beyond. It is key to our long term strategy, but it will take time and is most definitely not a quick fix.
There are however some success stories, Kruger National Park is one, but there are other locations in Africa that have poaching under control. Let us understand these models that have proven to achieve favourable results and invest our collective, but limited resources in replicating these models.
The South African government should be applauded for including in their announcement that 21 'officials' were arrested in relation to poaching. This is however without doubt just the tip of the iceberg. We must address the corruption that is fuelling the level of poaching we are witnessing. We must start at the very top and be brave enough to call out those individuals who are acting inappropriately, and illegally.
The implementation of an enforceable legislation, in both Africa and Asia, with severe consequences of being caught involved in the illegal trade in rhino horn would bring the poaching problem under control, if not eliminate it completely. Such an approach will not work while there is the level of corruption on both sides of the trade fence (supply and demand). But with the potential to achieve instant results, we should make the implementation of such a legislation a priority for all of us working to reduce poaching.
The recent case that resulted in the arrest of Boonchai Bach, allegedly head of Asia's largest illegal wildlife trade network, over the smuggling of 14 rhino horns and the projected 4 year prison sentence demonstrates we still have much work to do. 4 years in unacceptably low for such an individual - it relates to around 6 months per rhino killed!
We must also work more effectively with local communities to ensure that conservation of wildlife is seen as the responsibility of everyone, and that the majority, not the minority benefit from maintaining healthy populations of wildlife.
Helping Rhinos will continue to implement an innovative approach rhino conservation, collaborating with our partners and other NGO's to maximise the impact of our work. We will ensure we have a focus on both a long and short term strategy to empower local communities and to provide a sustainable model to wildlife conservation.
Find out more about our approach and that of our partners at our Spring Talk; Shades of Grey - Seven Saviours of Black and White Rhino on 15th March in London.
South Africa: 1,028
Kruger National Park: 504
South Africa: 518
Kruger National Park: 446
We are still losing on average three rhinos per day to poachers
220 weapons seized in rhino-related incidents
Rhino poaching related convitions increased to 111 in 2017 from 58 in 2016
21 officials arrested in relation to rhino poaching
Integrity testing launched within South African National Parks (SANParks)
1,346 Environmental Monitors deployed to rhino poaching hotspots