A stark illustration of the growing extent of rhino poaching comes from the latest statistics issued by the Department of Environmental Affairs.
In the first three months of this year the Kruger National Park lost 145 rhino to poachers’ high-powered assault and hunting rifles. In 2010 the iconic game reserve lost 146 rhino to poaching in the entire year.
Nationally, 203 rhino have been killed by poachers intent on smuggling the horn to Far Eastern countries where it is prized for its medicinal properties, with some claiming it can be used as an ingredient in a potion to cure cancer. Others have taken to it as a hangover cure. However, rhino horn has no medicinally proven properties.
Provincially, North West has been hardest hit by poachers to date this year, losing 18 rhinos, with KwaZulu-Natal one behind. Limpopo (10) and Mpumalanga (13), both of which include parts of Kruger in their provincial boundaries, are next highest on the provincial rhino loss list.
Last year was the worst on record for rhino losses to poachers, with 668 killed nationally. This was 220 up on the previous year’s figure of 448.
On the credit side, law enforcement authorities, including Kruger’s boosted ranger corps, are recording good arrest rates in connection with both rhino poaching and horn smuggling.
The total number of arrests so far this year is 165, almost half of the 2012 total of 232. Sixty-seven of these arrests have been in Kruger.
In January SANParks chief executive Dr David Mabunda said the national conservation agency was involved in a “low intensity war” against rhino poaching. This was one of the reasons for appointing retired SA Army major general Johan Jooste to head up SANParks’ overall anti-poaching effort which, according to Mabunda, is now far more militaristic.
This approach saw rangers, backed by intelligence and supported by elements of the SA Air Force and Army, record no less than 56 incursions into Kruger by suspected poachers in an 11 day period ending on April 1.
Five provinces – Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, Northern and Western Cape – have to date escaped the attentions of rhino poachers.
Ten rhino poaching related arrests in Gauteng confirm the province is one of the conduits used by poaching syndicates to move horn out of the country.