Rhino poaching incidents decreased to 769 in 2018, making it the third consecutive year that South Africa has seen a decline in rhino poaching. AP

JOHANNESBURG - The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) says it remains concerned about the overall status of rhino populations despite official figures from the department of environmental affairs showing the number of those killed in South Africa dropped to 769 in 2018 from 1,028 in 2017.

"The fact that fewer rhinos have been lost in South Africa in 2018 is good news and merits credit for the hard work and commitment of all those involved,"  WWF International's African rhino lead Dr Jo Shaw said.

"However, the overall status of our rhino populations remains a concern and we need continued commitment to address the systemic challenges for rhinos across the region."

Poaching losses in the rhino stronghold of the Kruger National Park declined from 504 in 2017 to 421 in 2018, in parallel with ongoing efforts to bring the situation under control.

During the course of the year a total of 229 alleged poachers were arrested inside and adjacent to the sprawling park, 40 more than in 2017. However, the Kruger has also seen a rise in elephant poaching to 71 killings in 2018.

The WWF said the crisis for rhinos was far from over and it was important to consider the number living rhinos as well as the number of poaching losses.

Whilst 2018 saw some major arrests and successful convictions, the frequent granting of bail, especially to those in the crime syndicates co-ordinating rhino horn trafficking, was a serious concern, the independent conservation organisation said.

"We need targeted efforts to address corruption and more effective international collaboration on investigations into syndicates operating in Asia to address the entire criminal supply chain," it said.

WWF wildlife practice leader Dr Margaret Kinnaird said corruption remained a major part of the challenge in addressing rhino poaching and trafficking of wildlife products.

"To address this, we need to consider what draws people into wildlife crime. We must find a way to empower people working and living around protected areas to be invested in a future with wildlife, including helping identify those who break the law," she said.

- African News Agency (ANA)