Conservation efforts paying off as rhino poaching declines in 2020

The world’s shrinking rhino population has been under severe stress for many years, with rhinos being killed for their horns which are mistakenly believed to carry medicinal and other benefits for humans.

Every year, thousands of rhino horns are smuggled to countries such as China and Vietnam in East Asia, where they fetch a high price.

THE WORLD’S LARGEST RHINO POPULATION

2efac395 rhinokruger - Conservation efforts paying off as rhino poaching declines in 2020
The Kruger National Park is home to about 4,000 of the country’s rhinos. Image: Adobe Stock

South Africa has the world’s biggest population of rhinos, most of which are found in the Kruger National Park. Moneyweb reports that South Africa is home to about 20,000 white rhinos and an unknown smaller number of black rhinos.

The Kruger National Park has noted a 33% reduction in the number of rhinos poached in the park in 2020. It attributes the decline to limitations on movement enforced by the country’s national lockdown restrictions in 2020.

“During the COVID hard lockdown period we had a significant reduction in poacher incursions into the Kruger National Park.” Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy said. 

SUCCESSES IN ANTI-POACHING EFFORTS

Though poaching is still a problem, the number of rhinos killed through poaching has been on a steady decline in South Africa. The Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries reports that 394 rhinos were killed in South Africa over the last year. This is down from 594 killed in 2019.

This figure is the sixth consecutive year of a decline in poaching, Creecy said in a media statement on Monday.

“While the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the battle to beat the COVID-19 pandemic contributed in part to the decrease in rhino poaching in 2020, the role of rangers and security personnel who remained at their posts, and the additional steps taken by the government to effectively deal with these and related offenses, also played a significant role.”

KRUGER PARK’S DECLINING POACHING STATISTICS

According to National Geographic, the Kruger National Park now has about 4,000 of the country’s rhinos. About 3,549 white rhinos and 268 black rhinos remain in the Kruger Park.

Though this number has decreased sharply from 2010, when the rhino population was over 10,000, progress is being made. This is evident in the tapering number of rhinos being poached in South Africa’s largest game park.

MEASURES IN PLACE TO COMBAT POACHING

Several measures are being used to curb the poaching of rhinos in the Kruger National Park.  

Surveillance technology with a special focus on female rhinos of breeding age is used in the park. Female rhinos are said to bear up to 10 offspring in their lifetime.

SANParks has started relocating some of the rhinos in Kruger to other national parksdeemed to be safer from a poaching point of view. This effort had been stalled for several years due to a tuberculosis outbreak among rhinos in South Africa.

MORE RHINO POACHERS BEING CAUGHT

Another common practice is the dehorning of rhinos. This entails the removal of a rhino’s horn which, if done correctly, does not harm the animal. Rhino horn is made of keratin, the same tough protein substance human fingernails are made of.

A rhino without its horn is not desirable to poachers, so this strategy has been useful for conservation of the species. However, a rhino’s horn regrows after a few years and must repeatedly be cut off. This is an expensive process, Grant Fowlds, conservation ambassador for Project Rhino, told National Geographic.

The apprehension of poachers has also improved. In 2020, 66 suspected rhino poachers were arrested in Kruger. A further 90 people were arrested for poaching and rhino horn trafficking outside the park.

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