Rhino deaths down but poaching incursions up in Kruger


The Kruger National Park (KNP) is seeing some success in reducing the number of rhinos killed, with rhino deaths down for 2016, but the number of incursions by poachers has increased over the last year.

It is becoming harder for poachers to successfully poach an animal in Kruger and according to statistics provided by SANParks, in 2012 a total of 425 rhinos were poached while there were 876 incidents of poaching activity.

For 2013 this rose to 606 rhinos poached and 1 487 incidents. A further increase came in 2014 with 827 animals killed and 2 290 incidents. SANParks started seeing success in 2015 when 826 rhinos were killed – almost the same as the previous year – but poaching activity increased to 2 466 incidents. Poaching declined further in 2016 with 662 rhinos poached but poaching activity increased to an all-time high of 2 883 incidents.

Further success can be seen in the arrest and firearm confiscation numbers. For 2012 this was 73 arrests and 42 firearms recovered; for 2013 it was 123 and 69 respectively; for 2014 it was 174 and 110; in 2015 the figures show 202 arrests and 125 firearms confiscated. Arrests were up by almost a third in 2016 (281) and firearm confiscations reached 148 weapons seized.

Although fewer rhinos were poached last year, fewer rhinos were born due mainly due to the drought – Sam Ferreira, a large mammal ecologist with SANParks noted that the rhino poaching rate in the Kruger is still higher than the birth rate. This has been exacerbated by the recent drought, which has a lag effect on the rhino population as the animals have a 16 month gestation period – small population growth is expected next year. The drought has also resulted in the natural deaths of a number of rhinos.

According to Dr Danny Govender, a SANParks scientist, the recent drought meant that people living around the park (there are around two million people surrounding Kruger) were hit hard and as a result more likely to enter into crime. However, although the drought made it easier to track rhinos, it also made it easier to track poachers.

Some of the reasons for the reduction in successful poaching include the use of tracking and sniffer dogs, which have a very high success rate, the use of aircraft for patrols and the introduction of technology like the Meerkat wide area surveillance system that uses radar and cameras to detect poachers day and night, 24/7. Rangers are also being equipped with night vision equipment and other gear.

Although rhino poaching in the Kruger National Park has gone down, elephant poaching is on the rise. For the first time in a decade, poachers killed an elephant in the Kruger in 2014, and killed around 20 of the animals for their tusks in 2015 and around 40 in 2016. Much of the elephant poaching is concentrated in the north of the park. There are about 18 000 elephants in the Kruger National Park.