Easing of Covid-19 restrictions reopens rhino poaching floodgates
There has been a noticeable spike in incidents in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Free State
Rhino in SA’s parks are under pressure once more as poaching incidents rise in the wake of easing Covid-19 movement restrictions.
Some 249 rhinos were killed for their horn between in the six months from January to the end of June, the forestries, fisheries and environment department said.
While the figure was higher than the 166 animals poached during the same period last year, it was still an improvement on 2019 when 318 animals were killed during the first half of the year, said department spokesperson Albi Modise.
Of the total numbers of rhinos poached, 132 were killed in the Kruger National Park, compared to 90 in 2020 and 191 in 2019.
While the national lockdowns that curbed the movement of people to halt the spread of the virus in 2020 contributed to a decrease in rhino poaching, the lifting of the stringent lockdown regulations appears to have seen an increase in rhino poaching.
“While the national lockdowns that curbed the movement of people to halt the spread of the virus in 2020 contributed to a decrease in rhino poaching, the lifting of the stringent lockdown regulations appears to have seen an increase in rhino poaching in the first six months of 2021,” he said.
There had been a noticeable increase in poaching activity in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the Free State, he added.
Sixteen rhinos were killed in Free State, up from eight in 2020 and none in 2019, 30 were lost in Limpopo compared to five in 2020 and 16 in 2019, and 20 rhinos were killed in Mpumalanga (six in 2020, 11 in 2019).
Rhinos in KZN continued to bear the brunt of the killings, however, with 33 animals lost this year, 47 last year and 66 in the first six months of 2019.
Modise said the department continued to monitor the “increased pressure” being experienced by private rhino owners and reserves.
Rhino poaching incidents in private reserves over the same reporting periods accounted for 30% this year, 9% in 2020 and 15% in 2019.
SANParks reported that one elephant had been poached for its tusks in Kruger during the reporting period.
There were 715 poaching incidents in Kruger during the first half of the year, a 3.77% increase from 689 incidents in 2020.
Arrests and prosecution rates were improving, as the combined efforts of SA’s law enforcement agencies and other authorities began to bear fruit.
Agencies now tasked with combating wildlife crime include the SA Police Services (SAPS), the Hawks, SANParks and the “Green Scorpions” along with customs officials, SANDF, provincial park authorities and the National Prosecuting Authority.
Some 125 people were arrested for rhino poaching or horn trafficking up to the end of June, 40 of them in Kruger alone.
A number of horns had also been confiscated at OR Tambo International Airport.
“The cohesive partnership with the South East Asian countries is also showing concrete results with the recent collaboration between the South African and the Vietnamese authorities resulting in one of the largest seizures of rhino horns and other wildlife products, thereby disrupting syndicate activities,” said Modise.
Meanwhile, 14 poaching cases had been heard in court with a 93% conviction rate, amounting to 20 people found guilty.
However, the pandemic continued to put the brakes on finalising cases as staff were forced to quarantine.