Accurate poaching statistics are still hard to ascertain due to Government not regularly releasing these figures. Unofficial statistics, as at the end of April 2018, indicate a loss of over 250 rhino for the year to date. A conservative estimate would bring this number closer to 300 by mid-July/August 2018. The good news is that these figures indicate that poaching of rhinos has declined by at least 20% this year but on the converse, there’s been a surprising rise in numbers of elephants being targeted.

Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa remains “cautiously optimistic that we are turning the tide on the scourge of poaching.”  During her budget speech earlier this year she is quoted by News24 as saying “we attribute this decline to the multifaceted interventions that we are deploying. I would like to extend our sincerest appreciation to the many rangers that patrol our parks and look after our natural heritage for current and future generations.” She also said that these efforts would be further supported through the new programme with a budget of almost R 60- million that has been approved by the Global Environment Facility.

At the time of writing, no official statistics could be sourced as to the number of elephant poached during the first half of 2018. The last time elephant poaching was significant in the Kruger National Park was in the 1980s, with the Kruger losing in the region of 100 elephants in 1981.

Between 2000 and 2013 no elephant were lost to poachers in Kruger. 2014 saw the trend pick-up with two elephants being poached  in 2014, 22 in 2015, 46 in 2016 and 68 in 2017. Experts are predicting a rise in elephant poaching this year and that the Kruger National Park may lose close to 100 elephants in 2018. Although the Kruger has a high concentration of elephants, one elephant poached is too many.  Most elephant poaching in the Kruger takes place in the central and northern areas of the park.

The Democratic Alliance (DA), which is a political party in South Africa, as well as civil society  has upped the pressure on Government to provide regular and accurate statistics on poaching in South Africa, with the DA requesting weekly updates. In a recent publication, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) was quoted as saying that while it appreciates the recent statement by Minister Molewa on the latest rhino poaching figures, and is pleased to note the reported decline in rhinos illegally killed, (from 1,054 in 2016 to 1,028 in 2017), “we remain concerned about the very high poaching rate and what this means for the future of rhinos in South Africa. The EWT is committed to continuing to work with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and other stakeholders to save our rhinos from the scourge of poaching.” Noteworthy is the reference in the Minister’s report to the collaboration between the various justice, crime prevention and security cluster departments.

Along with the small drop in recorded poaching incidents, the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) reports an increase in convictions from arrests made. However, when convictions are calculated against rhino poached, the rate is only 10,8%, so effectively only 1 in 10 rhino poaching incidents has led to a successful conviction.

Last year saw a decrease in rhino poaching arrests countrywide despite an increase in arrests within and adjacent to Kruger National Park; from 417 in 2016 to 445 in 2017. We would like to know whether this is as a result of increased enforcement capacity and intelligence-driven operations, or a sign of increasing incursions into the park? It would also be useful to establish how many of the 220 weapons that were seized were used in other crimes in South Africa, and whether ballistics will be carried out to determine this.

The arrests of 16 level three to four (courier/local buyers and exporters) criminal syndicates is record-breaking and a critical step in the right direction towards dismantling these highly organised criminals. It is however disturbing to note the increase of offences stemming from the very people that are employed to curb the poaching Link to,  but it is promising that corrupt officials are being identified and action is being taken.  The EWT applauded the National Prosecuting Authority on the many successful cases that have been prosecuted during 2017.

Although it is reassuring that rhino horn contraband is being detected at ports of exit, there remains the concern that there may be much more rhino horn contraband that is not detected and which is still  leaving our borders. The evidence suggests that many smugglers are still prepared to take the risk at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport, and benchmarking against the measures in place at other international airports is in order.

Meanwhile, as pressure escalates, the South African government is yet to adopt the National Integrated Strategy to Combat Wildlife Trafficking, or Regulations on Domestic Trade in Rhino Horn. A Memorandum of Understanding signed with Mozambique in 2014 has also not been consolidated, with the Implementation Agreement yet to be confirmed.