In January 2018, Minister Edna Molewa from the South African Department of Environmental Affairs released the 2017 poaching numbers in South Africa: 1,028 rhino were poached in 2017, which indicated a slight decline (26) from the 1,054 animals killed in 2016.
This is of course no reason to celebrate, it’s still horrifying on all levels especially if one bears witness to the brutality and sheer disregard for these animals’ lives.
The 1,028 rhinos killed in 2017 still works out to nearly three rhino’s being killed every day. And while poaching is slightly down in the Greater Kruger area where security has increased, it is significantly up in other provinces particularly in KwaZulu Natal.
The Kruger National Park, which has traditionally borne the brunt of poaching, saw a total of 504 rhinos poached between January and December 2017, this is 24% less than the 662 recorded the previous year. So, although it is encouraging that poaching levels are not escalating, losses are still extremely high, and the outlook for rhino population growth is severely impacted especially since poachers are proving adept at changing their target sites and trafficking strategies. This also means that in the last few years the government and international donors have channeled ever more funding and resources into securing the Park.
As a result of the increased funding as well as the counter-poaching strategies introduced, we are now seeing a decrease in the number of poacher activities in the Kruger National Park with a total of 2 662 incursions recorded in 2017 compared with 2 883 in 2016. This represents a percentage decrease of 7, 6% of noted illegal incursions into the park.
It is however important to note that (1) most illegal activity however still occurs in Kruger National Park, a 19,485 km2 of protected habitat on South Africa’s north-eastern border with Mozambique (2) South Africa has by far the largest population of rhinos in the world and as such is an incredibly important for rhino conservation and (3) from 2007 to 2014 the country experienced an exponential rise in rhino poaching – a growth of over 9,000%!
So, whilst the 2017 figures did show a dip in poaching in South Africa for the second year in a row, indicating that increased protection efforts are paying off, poaching continues at an unacceptable rate. The concern being that even with increased security and notable successes, there is a growing sophistication of poaching gangs who will also move to less secure areas thereby gained wider geographical coverage.