Rhino Poaching DOWN for third Year in a Row

Thursday 14 February 2019

The South African Department of Environmental Affairs have released the official rhino poaching statistics for 2018 and they show a significant reduction in rhinos poached last year. This is without doubt a welcome piece of good news, but do these stats tell the whole story?

After a decade of one tragedy after another for the world's rhino population, we are all in need of some more positive news! On 13th February 2019 the South African Government provided exactly that with news that the number of rhinos poached in a calendar year fell below 1,000 for the first time in six years. Indeed the number was significantly less - 769 rhinos lost to poachers compared to 1,028 in 2017 and record high of 1,215 in 2014. South Africa is home to around 72% of the world's rhinos and it is thanks to those dedicated individuals working tirelessly to protect our rhinos that this definitely is news the world was hoping for.

Of course, 769 rhino killed by poachers is still way too many and is no cause for celebration, but it is a significant move in the right direction.

But life is never as simple as statistics on a piece of paper, and the fate of our rhino is no different. There are many factors we must look into before getting 'carried away' with the apparent success these latest statistics reveal, including:

Thandi and Mthetho

Overall Rhino Population

While the poaching of rhino is down, so is the overall population of rhino. As our colleague on the ground, Dr William Fowlds commented: "Rhino poaching stats for 2018 appear to present us with positive news at last and our thanks go out to all those that have committed their lives and support to this crisis. The true measure of progress can only be made when our national rhino population figures get released indicating what percentage is dying year on year".

Craig Spencer, Founder of the world famous Black Mambas all female anti-poaching unit, and partner of Helping Rhinos commented "The rhino population has been all but brought to its knees during this last 6 years. This means that a single loss is now more significant than losing 10 in 2012. The national statistics are an accurate representation of rhino losses but not an accurate assessment of the state of the rhino population and its potential to recover".

Effectiveness of Anti-Poaching Units

The harsh reality is that if a rhino is found poached, something somewhere has gone wrong with the anti-poaching strategy. These latest statistics indicate that anti-poaching methods have had a greater success in 2018 than in previous years, but we should also be looking at 'poacher effort' i.e. the number of times a poacher attempts to poach a rhino, whether successful or not. Our sources on the ground tell us that the success rate of poachers is now less than ever before. Craig Spencer confirmed that in Balule, the area patrolled by the Black Mambas, poachers only succeed in killing a rhino 17 times in every 100 attempts. This is more good news, but it highlights the fact there is still much work to be done in local communities to deter poaching attempts in the first place.

New technology, such as remote sensing and drones have also played a key role in helping the make anti-poaching activities more effective.

Changes in Demand of Rhino Horn

The price of rhino horn on the black market has decreased significantly. From an high of in excess of $65,000 per KG, horn in Vietnam is now regularly selling for $25,000 per KG (source: Interpol). The use of rhino horn in countries such as Vietnam was always more about status and a fashion item than purely a material for traditional medicines. As with any item, fashions come and go, and it would seem that rhino horn is becoming 'yesterday's fashion'. We can only hope this is the case.

In China, behaviours are also changing among recent generations. As the world and a host of global opportunities become more accessible, Millennials are less interested in traditional practices than their parents and grandparents.

Intelligence Gathering

'Intel' is key on both sides of the battle! Almost every successful poaching incident requires inside knowledge, and it is not just the location of the rhino that the poacher is after. How to avoid detection is arguably even more vital information to the poaching gang.

But it is also a time for caution. The loss of a single rhino now is more damaging to the species than the loss of 10 rhino five years ago.

In summary, this is a time to reflect on what is working well in the ongoing efforts to protect rhino. Craig Spencer noted: We need to take great pride in the interventions that we are responsible for: dogs, trained customs officials, prosecutors and rangers, as well as equipment + technology and community engagement. If not for these, there would surely be no rhino left".

But it is also a time for caution. The loss of a single rhino now is more damaging to the species than the loss of 10 rhino five years ago.

Poaching is not addressed by one single solution. It is an international and multi-layered crime that needs a multi-pronged approach. Every ingredient in the cake is critical to success, and everyone one of us has a part to play.

"Helpng Rhinos is not about to ease up on our efforts and I will continue to work with our partners in the field on innovative strategies to protect the world's remaining rhinos" says Helping Rhinos CEO Simon Jones

Rhino Poaching Stastics

Click here to read the full press release from South Africa's DEA