On Sunday, World Rhino Day, the number of rhinos killed by poachers rose to 688 – the highest figure yet in any year and reached in less than nine months.
Last year, the death toll was 668, the previous year it was 448 and in 2010 it was 333.
With more than three months left this year, some experts fear the rhino death toll could rise to between 900 and 1 000.
Before 2008, the number of rhino poached nationally was fewer than 20 a year.
However, Environment Minister Edna Molewa, who joined the Rhino Day Street Parade in Pretoria on Saturday, gave assurances yesterday that “the government will not allow rhino to become extinct on our watch”.
“The spate of rhino poaching has strengthened the government’s resolve and determination to work tirelessly to address the plague,” Molewa said.
In the past 10 days, 25 suspected poachers have been arrested, including one whom SANParks described as one of “the most wanted” in the Kruger National Park.
This year, 219 suspected poachers have been arrested, 79 of them in the Kruger National Park.
Yesterday, the CSIR announced that it had teamed up with SANParks to help fight the poaching of rhino and abalone.
CSIR programme manager Charl Petzer said the science and research body would help SANParks with technology evaluation and testing to identify the best options.
“We are evaluating different stealth technologies to detect human movement across border zones as well as a means of detecting the location of a shooter within seconds. Better sensor technologies are being looked at to add to surveillance capabilities at poaching hot spots,” Petzer said.
The CSIR would be working with other sectors to look at issues such as understanding the behaviour and conditions in surrounding populations that lead to poaching.
Major-General Johan Jooste, the former army officer who heads SANParks’ anti-poaching project, said while they were fighting battles on the ground, “we cannot forget the bigger war”.
“At the highest level, we need to bring together the many departments and agencies that have a mandate to act in this field and get cohesion and consistency in how we best work together. There are policy issues involved,” Jooste said.
Last week, the environmental group WWF-South Africa released a report that said the typical person driving the rhino poaching crisis was a rich, 48-year-old Vietnamese businessman who believed using powdered rhino horn was a “badge of wealth and power”.