Nearly 200 rhinos have been killed in South Africa in the first half of 2011, according to new figures released by the national parks department.
A record 333 rhinos were killed by poachers in 2010, and this figure looks to be exceeded in 2011 if the current rate of poaching continues. Kruger National Park continues to be the hardest hit, having lost 126 rhinos to poaching since the beginning of the year.
South Africa is home to the largest populations of African rhinos, including the white rhino and the Critically Endangered black rhino. The sharp increase in rhino poaching in the last few years is being fuelled by the demand for horns in Asia, where they are highly valued in traditional medicine.
Sophisticated criminal gangs
“Poaching is being undertaken almost without exception by sophisticated criminals, sometimes hunting from helicopters and using automatic weapons,” says Dr Joseph Okori, WWF’s African Rhino Programme Coordinator.
“South Africa is fighting a war against organized crime that risks reversing the outstanding conservation gains it made over the past century.”
South African authorities have responded to the recent poaching crisis with more effective law enforcement measures, so far resulting in 123 arrests and 6 successful convictions in 2011.
“We are pleased to see more successful convictions of poachers,” said Dr Morné du Plessis, CEO of WWF South Africa. “Applying strict penalties for wildlife crimes such as rhino poaching will demonstrate the South African government’s commitment to maintaining this important part of the country’s heritage.”
Spread of poaching sparks further fears
However, despite this apparent step forward in convicting poachers, there are fears that the poaching surge shows no sign of flagging. Furthermore, Swaziland lost its first rhino to poaching in nearly 20 years in June, sparking worry that the crime wave could be spreading to neighbouring rhino range countries.
“The poaching surge shows no sign of abating,” says Tom Milliken, Elephant & Rhino Programme Coordinator with TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring group.
“Only a concerted international enforcement pincer movement, at both ends of the supply and demand chain, can hope to nip this rhino poaching crisis in the bud.”
Read the WWF Press Release.
Helen Roddis, ARKive Scientific Text Author