South Africa announce their official poaching stats for 2019 which show another decrease in the number of rhino killed by poachers. But do these numbers tell the whole story? There are still more questions than answers!
On the 3rd February 2020 the South African Government Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF) reported that the official number of rhino poaching in 2019 was 594, the lowest total since 2011. On the face of it, this is of course very good news for rhino and is testament to everyone who works tirelessly to help protect these iconic animals, and in particular the Ranger's who face daily threats to their lives. But for an accurate picture of what this really means for rhino, we need to delve deeper than just the number of rhino poached.
A look at the breakdown of where poaching took place by province shows that more rhino are still being lost in the Kruger National Park than any other location, which is no surprise given that KNP is still home to the largest single population of rhino in the world. Kwa-Zulu Natal, where Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park is located and home to the second largest population of rhino in the country is also still losing far too many rhino.
While all provinces have seen less poaching than the previous year, some areas have only seen a small reduction, while others, like the Eastern Cape who lost only 2 rhino compared to 19 the previous year, have had a very impressive year in terms of protecting their rhino.
You can hear about the anti-poaching operations of the Eastern Cape at our Spring Talk 'Creating a Rhino Stronghold' at the Royal Geographical Society in London on Thursday 2nd April.
IS THIS REALLY GOOD NEWS FOR RHINO?
From the Field
"The decline in rhino poaching numbers is met with very mixed feelings and quite frankly, they are no cause for celebration.
Quite frankly, where is the political urgency? The response one would expect when faced with "serious transnational organised crime that threatens national security.''
Dr William Fowlds
In short, the answer to that question is NO!
Or at best, we do not know.
To really understand whether these latest poaching statistics are good or bad news for the rhino, we need to understand how the relate to the overall population. Unfortunately, this is something the that DEFF have not published since 2017!
What we do know is that the population of white rhino in Kruger National Park declined by 42% in just 2 years (2015 to 2017)* and that in 2015 and 2017 there were more rhino poached than born in the world famous park.*
In the absence of any official numbers from the South African Government, we are left to make assumptions. Given the trend in population decline in the years before the last official population census was released, it is safe to assume this trend has continued.
Between 2014 and 2017, the percentage of white rhino poached in KNP was between 8% and 9%*. If this ratio remained consistent over the next two years, the the overall population of rhino would be significantly less.
But why have the South African Government not released any population numbers since 2017? Do they have something to hide?
We call on DEFF to urgently release the current population stats from the census carried out in 2018 and 2019!
In today’s press release it states "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” said Minister Creecy.
We have had this message in various forms for around 12 years now. 8,500 dead rhinos later we are still hearing the same thing!
Without a doubt, the number of rhino lost in 2019 would have been FAR worse if not for the selfless efforts of the Rangers on the ground, their management and all other law enforcement and strategic role players who have shed blood, sweat and tears every single day of the year and the many years before that. They hold the line, at great personal cost to themselves and their families.
We owe them a great debt of gratitude and can only hope that the Government demonstrate the same level of commitment and integrity in their actions to bringing an end to this suffering of rhino.
*source: Africa Geographic