With no official figure yet forthcoming from the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) on last year’s rhino kill, non-government organisations believe the lack of information is negatively affecting those involved in anti- and counter-poaching efforts.
One of them is Elise Daffue, founder of stoprhinopoaching. Intelligence gathered by her organisation points to a national loss of between 1,160 and 1,170 rhino last year.
“This is a slight drop from the 1,215 lost in 2014 and the first year showing a reduction since the start of the poaching war in 2007/08. The figure is far too high but it needs to be viewed in context of the escalating threat and the complexity of investigating rhino – and other wildlife – crime.
“The drop in kills is testimony to the huge effort being made on the enforcement side. Environment Asset Protection strategies have been formulated and implemented over the past three years, guiding the strategic and operational plans nationally – from the ranger in the bush who detects the spoor to the prosecutor who fights that bail is denied. Keeping the numbers down depends entirely on good field work and reserve security, good investigations and good convictions,” she said.
Daffue believes the decrease in the number of animals killed – even if slight – shows progress.
“In rhino terms, every life saved is a victory,” she said adding what has been achieved shows what can be done with perseverance and dedication.
“It will also serve as motivation to face the challenges of 2016. If not for the men and women on the frontlines we would have lost hundreds more rhino. We as the public have an obligation to keep the morale up and not just criticise.”
On the DEA decision to release rhino kill statistics quarterly, Daffue supports the reliability of the official numbers but maintains in has negatively affected public support for the rhino cause.
“There has been a noticeable drop in donations and it must be remembered that public funding, when channeled through credible organisations, has contributed to the overall success. This is especially so when funding goes to vital security initiatives.”
Kirsty Brebner, rhino project manager at the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), is of the opinion that withholding rhino kill numbers from the public “doesn’t help the cause”.
She said the lack of information available makes it difficult for potential donors and funders to take informed decisions.
“Generally it is a case of people not seeing how serious the rhino poaching problem is and not being able to make informed decisions about it.”
Last August Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa told a Cape Town briefing 749 rhino had been killed for their horn with the Kruger National Park losing by far the majority of this Big Five species – 544.