Hooo-Hooo Volume 10, nr 4 - Page 28

WildLife Group of the SAVA bosbrokkies Bush buzz Rhino Poaching in South Africa: are Numbers Falling or Focus Shifting? Sunday 18 September 2016 Keith Somerville, Visiting Professor, University of Kent This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article. (https://theconversation.com/rhino-poaching-in-south-africa-are-numbers-falling-orfocus-shifting-65358) South Africa recently triumphantly announced that rhino poaching is on the decline in the Kruger National Park. South Africa’s Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, said 702 rhinos had been killed in the country as a whole so far this year, compared with 796 in the same period last year. So far this year 414 suspected poachers have been arrested. Around 177 of these were in Kruger and 237 in the rest of the country. The figures don’t tally, unless Funda’s estimate includes a significant number of the poachers caught and released without charge or perhaps killed in contacts with the rangers. She also announced that between January and August this year a total of 458 poached rhino carcasses were found in Kruger compared to 557 in the same period last year. This represents a 17.8% decline. The park is the hardest hit by poaching and the numbers look like good news for rhinos and conservation. But is there really a downward trend? Or is it just a re-orientation by poachers in the face of stepped-up security in the Kruger Park and the reflection of the steady decline in South African rhino numbers due to poaching? The number of incursions suggest there has been no let up in poaching. It may be that poachers are finding rhino harder to find. Kruger’s chief ranger said that the park had deployed very high security in an intensive protection zone. This zone, in the southern third of the park and along the border with Mozambique, is a regular route for poachers entering the park. He added that poachers were now often entering the park posing as tourists rather than sneaking across the unfenced border with Mozambique. Poachers were also increasingly armed with high-powered Czech hunting rifles with sound moderators. These, he believed, had been brought into South Africa from Mozambique, where they had been supplied to wildlife officials but then illegally sold on to poachers. Poaches adopt new strategies Chief Ranger Funda, who heads the protection teams at the Kruger National Park, told me that despite the falling carcass numbers, the number of incursions by poachers had increased by a worrying 27.87%. That is a staggering 2,115 for the first eight months of 2016. He told me that about half the poachers who entered the park were caught by rangers. 28 This single piece of rhino horn, from a non-lethally dehorned rhino, is worth about $40,000. Keith Somerville