COVID-19 curbs cut rhino poaching


Curbing peoples’ movement through stringent COVID-19 restrictions apparently applied to rhino poachers as well, with the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) reporting a decrease in rhino deaths, rising as restrictions were eased.

Minister Barbara Creecy released her department’s latest rhino poaching statistics and related information on Sunday to coincide with World Ranger Day. This after a February DFFE statement indicated a 33% drop in rhino poaching last year.

“From January to June this year, 249 rhino were poached for horn in South Africa.  This is more than the number killed for horn in the same period last year and at 166 is less than the 318 rhino poached in the first six months of 2019.

“During the first six months of 2021, Kruger National Park recorded 715 poacher activities, an increase of four percent compared to 2020, when there were 689 poaching activities in the same period,” according to a DFFE statement.

South Africa’s internationally iconic Kruger National Park recorded 132 rhino kills in the first six months of 2021. In the same one elephant was poached for ivory in Kruger.

The DFFE statement notes “increased poacher pressure” in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Free State and is monitoring this on private reserves. Government is also collaborating with the private sector which “plays a significant role in rhino protection”.

Privately owned game reserves and wildlife farms reported rhino losses of 30% of deaths in the national rhino population to date this year. This is significantly more than the nine percent recorded in 2020 and 15% in 2019.

As far as prosecution is concerned the DFFE statement reports finalisation of 14 cases to date this year. This is a 93% conviction rate with 20 accused involved. COVID-19 and its associated regulations are responsible for slowing down finalisation of cases. Witnesses, accused and court staff in many instances are required to isolate or quarantine and in some instances court buildings need decontamination.

From January to June 2021 40 alleged poachers were arrested in Kruger, with  125 people  arrested for rhino poaching and rhino horn trafficking nationally in the same period.

Creecy said there were numerous confiscations of rhino horn since January in the country and at OR Tambo International Airport.

“The partnership with south-east Asian countries  shows concrete results and a recent collaboration between South African and Vietnamese authorities resulting in a large seizure of rhino horn and other wildlife products, disrupting syndicate activities,” she said.

Creecy notes: “We remain aware criminal elements continue to take advantage of socio- economic pressures and drive demand for illegal wildlife products.  Accordingly, DFFE working with communities, NGOs (non-government organisations) and donors continues community development programmes, in collaboration with SANParks, provinces and neighbouring countries. The only long term sustainable solution to wildlife management and conservation is to ensure communities on the outskirts of national parks benefit from tourism and other opportunities”.