COVID-19 contributed to decrease in rhino poaching – Creecy


Barbara Creecy, the Cabinet Minister tasked with conserving and protecting South Africa’s natural assets, maintains there was “a marked decline” nationally in rhino poaching last year.

“The extraordinary circumstances surrounding the battle to beat the COVID-19 pandemic contributed in part to the decrease in rhino poaching in 2020, while the role of rangers and security personnel who remained at their posts and additional steps taken by government to effectively deal with these and related offenses played a significant role,” the Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Minister said in a statement released today (Monday, 1 February).

“During last year’s various lockdown alert levels in 2020 movement of alleged poachers and rhino horn smugglers was curtailed.  Alongside this, steps to address rhino poaching and wildlife crime across nationally were aligned to the integrated strategic management of rhinoceros and the principles in the draft National Integrated Strategy to Combat Wildlife Trafficking (NISCWT).

“After 10 years of various strategies to combat rhino poaching by local poachers, recruited and managed by crime syndicates, South Africa managed to arrest the escalation of rhino losses and has now seen a year-on-year reduction in the number of poached rhinos,” Creecy said adding “this success should be celebrated as a moderate win, we cannot become complacent as escalating demand in consumer countries ensures a lucrative black market trade”.

The 2020 calendar year saw 394 rhino killed for their horn. This is 33% less than the 594 killed in 2019 and marks the sixth year rhino poaching continued to decrease in South Africa.

“During 2020 the Kruger National Park experienced 1 573 poacher activities, a decrease of 21.9% compared to 2019.

“During 2020, 247 rhino were poached for their horns in all South African national parks – 245 in Kruger and two in Marakele National Park. Sixteen elephants were poached for ivory in Kruger during 2020, a decrease of 48.39% compared to the 31 killed in Kruger and Marakele national parks in 2019.

“During the COVID-19 hard lockdown there was a significant reduction in poacher incursions into Kruger. That changed later in the year as lockdown levels were eased and a significant spike in poaching in Kruger was experienced toward the end of 2020, especially in December,” according to the statement.

From January to December 2020, 66 alleged poachers were arrested in Kruger.  Ninety people were arrested for rhino poaching and rhino horn trafficking outside South Africa’s internationally iconic game reserve and at least 25 major investigations were undertaken across the country.

Last week the digital publication Daily Maverick reported the world’s single largest population of rhino found in Kruger was “slashed by between 66 and 70% over the past decade mainly due to the unrelenting wave of butchery by international horn poaching syndicates”. This, the publication said, was in contrast to Creecy and her department “conveying upbeat messages about recent significant declines in the rate of rhino poaching in Kruger and other rhino sanctuaries nationwide”.

“The reported reduction in poaching rates is largely reflected in the fact there are now fewer rhino to poach in Kruger,” Daily Maverick reports, adding there are an estimated 3 549 white and about 268 black rhino left in Kruger after an unprecedented surge in rhino horn poaching which escalated dramatically from 2008.