Jan 13

Rhino poaching has risen sharply in South Africa, with a total of 333 rhinos illegally killed in 2010 – the highest ever experienced in South Africa and nearly three times the 2009 figure.

Black rhino photo

A Critically Endangered species, 10 black rhinos (Diceros bicornis) were illegally killed in South Africa in 2010.

This recent rise in poaching threatens to reverse hard-won population increases achieved by conservation authorities during the 20th century. The world famous safari destination Kruger National Park, which is home to the largest populations of both white and black rhinos in the country, was hardest hit, losing 146 rhinos to poaching in 2010. An additional five rhinos have been lost to poaching in South Africa since the New Year.

White rhino photo

Two subspecies of the white rhino are recognised: northern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) and southern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum simum).

Criminal gangs

The current wave of poaching is being committed by sophisticated criminal networks using helicopters, night-vision equipment, veterinary tranquilisers and silencers to kill rhinos at night while attempting to avoid law enforcement patrols. While traditional poachers relied on simple snares, the current threat comes from well-equipped criminals funded by East Asian demand.

Rhino products have long been prized as an ingredient in traditional Asian medicine. It has even been claimed recently that rhino horn possesses cancer-curing properties, despite there being no medical evidence to support the assertion.

South Africa has responded by intensifying its law enforcement efforts, and made approximately 162 poaching arrests last year.

“Many more successful convictions, backed up by appropriately daunting penalties will significantly demonstrate the South African government’s commitment to preventing the clouding of the country’s excellent rhino conservation track record that it has built up over the past several decades.” Dr. Morné du Plessis, CEO of WWF South Africa.

Tourists watch a southern white rhinoceros - photo

Rescued from near extinction, the recovery of the southern white rhino stands as one of the world's greatest conservation success stories. Nevertheless, poaching pressure remains an ever-present threat.

21,000 rhinos in South Africa

South Africa is home to approximately 21,000 rhinos, more than any other country in the world. This includes around 1,700 black rhinos and 90 percent of Africa’s entire white rhino population.

The recovery of southern white rhinos from less than 100 in the late 19th century to more than 20,000 today is a remarkable conservation success story attributable to concerted conservation action. But the recent rise in poaching threatens everything that has been achieved to date, and even risks South Africa’s popularity as the unique destination to view the famous ‘Big Five’ – elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo and rhino.

To find out more about rhino poaching in South Africa, see the WWF press release.

Explore more endangered species on ARKive.

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author