File photo: Susan Scott/STROOP via AP

Cape Town – The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has welcomed the decrease in rhino poaching incidents to 769 cases.

This is a reduction of 259 rhino compared to 2017 when 1 028 rhino were killed for their horns. It is also the first time in five years that the annual figure has been under 1000.

This week Environmental Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane reported significant progress on the implementation of her department’s Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros covering the period January 1 to December 31, 2018.

This made it the third consecutive year South Africa had seen a decline in rhino poaching, particularly in the national parks.

However, elephant poaching was on the increase, with a total of 71 elephants poached in the Kruger National Park in the same period.

WWF International African Rhino Lead Dr Jo Shaw said the crisis for rhinos was far from over and it was important to consider the number of live rhinos that remained as well as the number lost to poaching.

“The fact that fewer rhinos were lost last year is good news and merits credit for the hard work and commitment of all involved. 

"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,” he said.

Shaw said the levels of poaching pressure remained high.

A total of 365 alleged rhino poachers and 36 alleged rhino horn traffickers were arrested countrywide last year, said Environmental Affairs.

There were now 318 rhino poaching-related cases on the court roll, involving 645 accused and 897 charges; 275 of the cases were trial-ready.

A total of 229 alleged poachers were arrested in and near the Kruger National Park, 40 more than the 189 arrested in 2017.

The National Prosecuting Authority obtained convictions in 78 of the 82 cases that went to trial, representing a 95.1% conviction rate with 78 cases involving 135 accused.

WWF Wildlife Practice Leader Dr Margaret Kinnaird said the frequent granting of bail, especially to those in the crime syndicates co-ordinating rhino horn trafficking, was troubling.

“Corruption remains a major part of the challenge in addressing rhino poaching and the trafficking of wildlife products. To address this, we need to consider what draws people to wildlife crime. 

"We must find a way to empower people living around protected areas to be invested in a future with wildlife, including helping to identify those who break the law,” she said.

Kinnaird advocated targeted efforts to address corruption and more effective international collaboration on investigations into syndicates operating in Asia.

Cape Times