Rhino poaching in South Africa rises as travel restrictions ease

Olivia Miller
Picture by Unsplash

Figures released by the South African Government’s Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) on International Rangers Day (31 July) show a 50% increase in rhino killed in South Africa compared with the same period of 2020. Professor Keith Somerville of the School of Anthropology and Conservation’s Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) comments on how the figures demonstrate that poaching demand remains high and is a long-term concern. He said:

When the numbers of rhino poached in South Africa fell in 2020, it was widely seen as a result of three factors. Firstly, Covid-19 restrictions making it harder for poachers to operate and easier for anti-poaching and police units to spot intercept poachers. Secondly, the success of the steeped and better targeted anti-poaching activity in national parks and reserves, and lastly – a natural consequence of the fall in the number of rhinos in Kruger and other protected areas.

‘As Covid-19 restrictions have eased and travel, including visits to national parks, has begun to climb again, the numbers of rhinos poached has risen sharply. DFFE’s Environment Minister, Barbara Creecy, admitted that 249 rhinos had been killed between 1 January and 30 June 2021. She said that the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions was a major factor in the increase from the 166 killed in the same period last year.

‘As a way for them to put some positive spin on these figures, the department statement said it was still below the 318 poached in the first half of 2019. This is not surprising – Covid-19 restrictions haven’t gone entirely, international tourism and international travel to and from South Africa is still lower than before and there are quite simply fewer rhinos in parks like Kruger, where the poaching is greatest, than there were a decade ago when poaching started to increase substantially. Of the 249 killed this year, 132 were in Kruger, which also had one elephant known to have been poached.

‘What is worrying is that a rise in poaching once more will mean a continued long-term fall in numbers both from the fatalities but also the loss of breeding potential to replenish numbers. It also strongly suggests that there has been no fall in demand and that as international passenger and freight travel begins to pick up from lockdowns worldwide, the trade in rhino horn to East Asia is not noticeably diminishing.’

Professor Keith Somerville is a member of the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology and an Honorary Professor at the University’s Centre for Journalism. Professor Somerville has written books on the ivory trade in Africa, human lion conflict and his latest book– Humans and Hyenas: Monsters or Misrepresented, was published March 2021.

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