Shocking Figures Show Rhino Poaching in South Africa has Escalated in 2015

Environment Minister Edna Molewa has finally released South Africa’s tragic and shocking rhino poaching figures for 2015, revealing that rhino are being poached at an even faster rate than last year with a 27% increase in poachers entering the Kruger National Park (KNP) to attempt to kill rhino.

The SanWild Rhino Sanctuary
Source: FB/The SanWild Wildlife and Rhino Sanctuary

As of Thursday 27 August 2015 the number of rhino South Africa lost to poachers was 749, according to the Minister. Of these, 544 were poached in the KNP. Last year’s figures on the same date were lower (yet still horrific), with 716 rhino lost nationwide of which 459 were in the Kruger.

Molewa said that so far this year there have been 1,617 positively identified poacher activities in the Kruger – which means at least 3 incursions per day along the 1,000 km border, and at least 12 active poacher groups at any given time somewhere on the 2 million hectares of the KNP!

Illustrating the escalation of the threat, Molewa revealed that anti-poaching teams have already “made physical contact with heavily-armed poachers” 95 times in the first 8 months of this year…compared to 111 contacts during the entire 12-month period of 2014.

By the end of last year well over ONE THOUSAND rhino had been killed by poachers – 1,215 to be exact. This year that figure looks set to be even higher. In fact, according to some private sources in South Africa, the official figures released yesterday are at least a week out of date and the true numbers come closer to the 800 mark.

According to Louise Joubert from SanWild Wildlife and Rhino Sanctuary, “As we get close to December the rhino poaching stats normally increase drastically as poachers try to cash in as much as possible before the festive season. Quite a horrible thought but very true.” (Please see Louise’s opinion piece in the grey box below.)

Molewa said that Government takes their responsibility to protect the rhino seriously “and we know that we can only be successful if we can mobilise all South Africans to support us.”

She said “the poaching figures are not cause for despondency”, that outside of the Kruger poaching figures have dropped, and that were it not for the interventions that the government is focussed on, the stats could have been far worse.

The interventions include Compulsory Interventions, Managing Rhino Populations, Long-Term Sustainability Measures (Communities) and Game-changing interventions. (See some of the key points below the gray box.)

International Cooperation essential in war against rhino poaching…

Clearly South Africa needs the cooperation of international bodies and states to win this battle. The Minister outlined several advancements and agreements that have been made with Cambodia, Vietnam (including more youth visiting South Africa and being exposed to rhino conservation), Mozambique (including the launch of an anti-poaching unit in southwestern Mozambique) and China (with a youth delegation due to visit SA during September).

The Minister added that “as most of you would be aware, we have set up a Committee of Inquiry to investigate the feasibility, or not of possible trade in rhino horn. The Committee is currently conducting its work. We will report in due course.”

Louise Joubert weighs in below on her opinion regarding this issue…

The Rhino Poaching Situation in South Africa – To Trade or Not to Trade

By Louise Joubert, Founder of SanWild Wildlife and Rhino Sanctuary 

Rhinos are in serious trouble and the South African government is clearly not able to turn the situation around.

Sadly the country also stands divided as there are basically two camps: those opposed to rhino horn trade and those in favour of the trade.

On a personal level I do not believe either camp at this stage really cares too much if rhinos survive or not; there are simply too many egos and hidden agendas that clearly are not in the best interest of rhinos. If they were that concerned about the species’ overall survival then all differences should be put aside and everyone should be working together to save a species.

Those opposed to trade are not willing to put money where it matters and create safe sanctuaries or protected reserves. Doing so will most definitely call for way too much personal sacrifice and commitment.  Most are arm-chair “conservationists” with little or no regard for the reality of the situation. The closest they come to the reality of rhino poaching is the keyboard of their computer or the air-conditioned seminar centres where they attend the various talks and discussions.

They never get to see the pain and suffering; neither do they smell the fresh blood or rotten flesh. They do not spend dark nights setting ambushes or having the headache of trying to find the funding to protect animals that some people love like their own children. Animal rights conservationists are not known to put their money where their mouth is unfortunately but, like the pro-trade lobby they’re known for the hidden agendas and political infighting. They like to talk the talk but hardly ever walk the walk.

Most of those in favour of trade will only protect rhinos for the sake of short-term financial gain. Unfortunately most of them will also never allocate the money needed to set up a well protected area for the protection of rhinos other than for their own commercial projects.

If they do fund some true conservation efforts, only a fraction of their profits will go towards such projects.  On most of these commercial projects rhinos are dehorned and when the horn is in safe custody, rhinos are normally left to fend for themselves.

Many pro-trade lobbyists are promoting the concept of handing rhinos from national parks to emerging farmers as a marketing ploy and decoy to promote the trade concept. In my humble opinion emerging farmers are not equipped and do not have the funds to protect rhinos for future generations at this stage, so this option is a dead-end street, but an option government would love to hear anyway as it suits them politically.

This dire situation unfortunately leaves the rhinos in a very precarious situation; pretty much between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Personally I believe we will lose all the rhinos in national and provisional parks; it really is just a matter of time…unless government change their approach and show real commitment to the preservation of the species.

[quote_center]”The solution to ensuring some rhinos do survive this holocaust…”[/quote_center]

The solution to ensuring some rhinos do survive this holocaust I believe will call for commitment and dedication from private land owners.

Government will have to back up such initiatives with a serious policy change.  They will need to form alliances and strategic partnerships with private land owners willing to protect the animals for their intrinsic value and species importance in an overall approach to biodiversity conservation.

However I am really afraid that they do not have the political will or understanding of the seriousness of the situation.  I can only pray that my perception is wrong and that indeed rhinos and above all conservation do matter to the ANC government.

I guess however that action speaks louder than words and at this stage I am not too hopeful.  Government’s priorities when it comes to bio-diversity conservation and the protection of our natural areas and heritage are openly compromised for short term financial gain on so many levels in our country.

Many private land owners that are not interested in trade per say, and that are not just seeing rhinos as the goose that lays the golden egg, would love to protect rhinos…and I do believe they have a real commitment to do so.

But they are up against massive odds – protect rhinos against poachers and dare to shoot a poacher on private land will see you being held for murder.

Poaching – inclusive of bush meat poaching – is hardly regarded as a crime. (Bush meat poachers are in many cases the intelligence breach that provide ongoing information to rhino poachers.)

For many years poachers have been protected by law while the private land owners battle on trying to stop the pilfering and blatant theft of their wildlife.  While the law appears to be on the side of the poachers,  private land owners are left to deal with the increasing problem that is sweeping across private land like a wild bush fire.

For just how long the private sector is going to be interested in holding up against rhino poaching before a ranger is sent to jail for murder is anyone’s guess.  As much as one would like to ignore the situation, it is difficult to fight fire with fire if you do not have the support of the powers that be.

In the light of the seriousness of this situation and the pending loss of an iconic species to greed driven by criminal elements it is however necessary to fight fire with fire.

Changing perceptions and addressing the demand [for rhino horn from Asia] is in reality not going to save the rhinos as I do not believe they have enough time left.

[quote_center]”Those in the know predict that rhinos will be lost in the next 8–10 years…”[/quote_center]

Those in the know predict that rhinos will be lost in the next 8–10 years; if not sooner.

Government will also have to assist private rhino owners financially to protect their animals – or state-owned animals – if they really want to save the species from extinction. My guess is it is highly unlikely that we will see this commitment from government.  Government will however find the political will and do what is neccessary to ensure the trade is opened, but this in effect will not make the rhinos’ situation any better.

It may however give private land owners a bit of a reprieve and create a way for rhino owners to generate funding to try and protect their animals against the increasing onslaught.

There is no doubt that opening the trade will see poaching increase…but at the rate it is increasing already there are not too many avenues left to try and protect rhinos.

Certainly the pro-use group is in a much better position to fund their pro-use propaganda and will inevitably convince government to come across and support their point of view no matter how loud activists scream and shout.

If the trade does result in the escalation of poaching and if government persists in treating private land owners as the criminals, and poachers as their new best friend it will be the end of rhinos as nobody I know will have the courage to try and save one of the most endearing creatures God created.  Private landowners will not have the funds nor the courage of conviction to protect their rhinos, no matter how much they want to – as who is prepared to spend their life in jail for trying to save a species?

[quote_center]”…the only way their investment can sky rocket is to kill the last rhino…”[/quote_center]

Animal rights will not provide the funding and the pro-trade individuals will continue to farm rhinos until the last one is dead.  One has to bear in mind that it is in the interest of criminal syndicates and traders to earn as much as possible for their rhino horns and the only way their investment can sky rocket is to kill the last rhino.

Conservation of the species is not in the interest of the criminals now driving the poaching and they are highly unlikely to change their modus operandi.

If rhinos are to be saved government will have to at least close the borders with Mozambique. No bail for poachers and a shoot on sight policy on private land and national parks without any fear of prosecution. At the same time China and Vietnam will need to be given the message loud and clear that their investment in South Africa may be in jeopardy as a direct result should their countries continue to mass slaughter our natural heritage.

As I am writing this I realize just how absurd this will sound to a government that simply has no understanding of this species’ importance.  What is an animal’s worth in comparison to the millions of rands that stand to be gained by corporates, individuals and the business sector?  Can this country’s minority of conservationists truly be expected to make a stand against multinational conglomerates and our government’s vested interests without international governments’ support?

There are approximately 12,000 white rhinos left in the wild in South Africa; the word on the ground is that government deliberately over estimate the numbers to exceed 20,000.

I believe on the short term the only way to protect sufficient genetic material (rhinos) is to setup highly specialized and protected areas for rhinos to ensure that enough animals are kept alive while politicians try to sort the mess.

Unless corporates, celebrities or wealthy individuals are going to get involved I am not sure who will fund such protected areas?

Animal rights are most definitely not going to do so. Parks are simply too large to effectively protect the animals under their care so I guess it will be up to a combination of private landowners and conservation bodies with a lot of tenacity, political know how and great business acumen.

I also believe rhinos in these protected areas should be managed and be owned by a combined trust of conservationists that want to ensure the species survive.  Once a blue print and pilot project is up and running more and more private landowners can become involved to ensure that our future generations will have rhinos around.

If you would like to donate to Wildlife Conservation in South Africa, please consider supporting SanWild Wildlife & Rhino Sanctuary – click here.

Some of the key points revealed and raised in yesterday’s press conference with the Minister of Environment were:

1. Compulsory Interventions

Anti-poaching compulsory interventions

  • There has been a 27% increase in poachers entering the KNP to attempt to kill rhino.
  • The utilisation of K-9 units, night capability as well as air and land capability, is now bearing fruit.
  • The total number of arrests inside the Kruger was 138 for this year compared to 81 arrests for the same period last year as at 27th August 2015. During July, 35 arrests were made in the Kruger alone, the highest ever recorded in one month.
  • Cooperation between anti-poaching teams and law enforcement agencies has increased arrests, such as the arrest of eight poachers during Operation Southern Comfort in the south of KNP.

Intensive Protection Zone

  • The Intensive Protection Zone concept now has night airborne reaction with well-equipped anti-poaching rapid response forces being implemented.
  • KNP received a donation of top-of-the-range monocular night vision equipment worth R3.4 million (as well as training to use it) from the Peace Parks Foundation, which has contributed to a levelling of the playing field – as poachers become increasingly sophisticated.
  • Night vision has become the key opto-electronic technology in modern conflicts that take place in the dark – the time when most poachers sneak up on their prey.

Pro-active anti-poaching measures and the use of technology

  • The Mission Area Joint Operations Centre in the Kruger National Park is fully functional, according to the Minister who said that coordination between all the stakeholders in the Centre has seen good results with Operation Rhino set to run until 2018.
  • Information sharing and live-streaming has led to a number of successes, with faster reaction times and enabled the teams to be “one step ahead of the poachers and their bosses.”
  • Outside of the KNP, poaching has decreased across the rest of the country, showing the the South African Police Services (SAPS) are playing a key role in stabilising poaching, said the Minister.

Ports of entry and exit

  • The DEA Green Scorpions, Customs and Border Police are working in collaboration at the OR Tambo International Airport to enforce regulations and detect trafficking of wildlife products in particular.
  • SAA Cargo Handlers have been trained to detect illegal consignments and further training will be rolled out to other port officials and operators.
  • Green Scorpions are being deployed to KwaZulu-Natal on a permanent basis, to be stationed at King Shaka International Airport (KSIA) servicing Durban harbour, KSIA and Golela border post.
  • With the new Border Management Agency (BMA) now operational, Operation Pyramid has been launched in the KNP as a pilot – intended to coordinate the efforts of different government departments in curbing cross-border crime.
2. Managing Rhino Populations
  • As part of a plan to ensure the long-term survival of the White Rhino species, SANParks has started translocating white rhino from the Kruger to private land owners. SANParks will deliver 150 during 2015.
  • SANParks will conduct another Rhino survey during September 2015. Last year’s survey during the same month recorded 8,001 to 9,290 white rhino in the Kruger National Park.
  • Elsewhere in South Africa, provincial reserves have a reported 4,400 white rhinos while private owners have 5,300.
  • Since 2012 a total of 26 orphaned rhinos have been rescued from the KNP and will ultimately be released as part of family groups in semi-intensive and free-ranging areas.
3. Long-Term Sustainability Measures – Communities

The Minister emphasised the importance of involving communities in conservation in order to eradicate poaching and said that “what gives me perhaps the greatest cause for hope is that communities are now more than ever playing a vital role in preserving our natural heritage.”

  • The Biodiversity Economy Strategy will be launched by President Jacob Zuma at the upcoming Biodiversity Economy Indaba. The strategy aims to curb poaching with the promotion of economic opportunities for communities.
  • Species conservation, including the rhino, will form part of this strategic intervention. As part of the government’s strategy to faciliate community ownership of rhino, the Minister said a successful case has been the handover of five rhino to the Mdluli Tribal Authority in Mpumalanga in March 2014. Similar projects are taking place in other communities.
  • 1,460 Environmental Monitors have been deployed across the country to educate communities in hard-hit poaching areas about the benefits of conservation and rhino protection.
4. Game-changing interventions
  • Various local and international partners and parties have been involved in the government’s anti-poaching initiatives, projects, conferences and training including an event for 150 magistrates in the country to raise awareness on environmental crime, with a particular focus on rhino.
  • Game-changing technology has been bolstered by the use of four 4×4 Forensic Mobile Units.
  • Phalaborwa will become the hub for operations in the north to “hopefully cut our response time to poaching incidents in the northern parts of the Park.”