Rhino Poaching in South Africa

Carina Hibbitt

15 May 2017

70th birthday safari

South Africa’s long-awaited statistical report on rhino poaching revealed an overall 10.3 per cent dip in the numbers illegally killed in 2016 compared to the previous year: 1054 rhino were poached in 2016 compared to 1175 in the same period in 2015. Credit is given to a multifaceted strategic management programme funded on government level and via several NGO’s and private sector donors. 

However, the picture is far from straightforward. What appears to be a success story on the surface, on further investigation reveals a worrying emerging trend.

While there has been a nearly 20% decrease in the number of poached rhino in the Kruger National Park specifically (a total of 662 rhino carcasses in 2016 compared to 826 in 2015) the number of rhino poached in other national parks and reserves has increased significantly. Feeling the pressure from the interventions and ranger presence in the KNP the transnational poaching syndicates are deploying further afield. 

The most recent massacre took place over the full-moon of 11 May 2017 when nine fresh rhino carcasses were found dead and dehorned at the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, South Africa’s oldest game reserve and the cradle of global rhino conservation. 

A month earlier and also over full moon, while on safari in Madikwe Game Reserve, NWS Sales Manager Arabella Worthington witnessed the aftermath of two white rhino shot by poachers. Arabella asked her guide how many rhinos there are in the reserve but due to confidentiality to protect them, even he didn’t know, though the reserve has white and black rhino, with more white rhino than black.

The tear in the skin in this harrowing image is actually done by the rangers when they found the rhino so that it is easier for the prey to eat the rhino as their skin is really tough/thick. By cutting the carcass open the smell travels further so that consumption can be done quicker before it rots. Three very well fed male lions brothers were in the vicinity protecting it, and hundreds of vultures had travelled from miles away to feed. 

A scan through the all too regular reports of rhino poaching show a peak of activity over full moon – or ‘poachers moon’. This is no coincidence, as the full moon means brightened skies, allowing poachers to operate without the need for torches which could disclose their position. 

Rhino poaching and increasing elephant poaching is devastating populations across southern and east Africa. These criminal gangs are armed to the teeth, well-funded and will stop at nothing to get their hands on rhino horn. They are using ever more sophisticated techniques to dehorn rhinos including the use of tranquilliser darts which are quieter than gun shots. It is becoming ever more challenging for the rangers on the ground to tackle the rising poaching threat as activity spreads beyond traditional poaching grounds. 

What can we all do to support the war against poaching? Travel - make wildlife worth more alive than dead. Your stay contributes to the protection of the dwindling populations, as well as their local environment, and generates revenue for the local communities.

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