KZN’s alarming rhino poaching stats

For the second consecutive year, KZN recorded massive losses with 325 rhinos poached in the past year. Picture: Armand Hough/Independent Newspapers

For the second consecutive year, KZN recorded massive losses with 325 rhinos poached in the past year. Picture: Armand Hough/Independent Newspapers

Published Feb 28, 2024


Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife has unveiled a string of measures aimed at combating rhino poaching which is threatening to decimate the rhino population in its parks.

For the second consecutive year, KZN recorded massive losses with 325 rhinos poached in the past year. About 11 of these were poached from private reserves.

In 2022, there were 244 rhinos poached in KZN with 16 on private land.

One of the most affected reserves is the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park.

Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Barbara Creecy, together with the CEO of Ezemvelo, Sihle Mkhize, briefed the media on Tuesday in St Lucia on the rhino poaching statistics.

The minister revealed that during 2023, 499 rhinos were poached across South Africa, with the most killed in KZN.

This was an increase of 51 in comparison to 448 rhinos poached in 2022.

The Kruger National Park (KNP) recorded a 37% decrease in incidents from 2022 with a total of 78 poached in 2023.

Mkhize said they were deeply concerned about the situation in KZN and were introducing a number of measures in response, including employing more field rangers to fill vacancies.

They have also mobilised field rangers from other reserves to support the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park which spans 96 000 hectares.

Another intervention in its infancy was the polygraph testing of its staff.

Mkhize said this was an important measure: “We want to make sure that our front-line staff are honest in conducting their duties.”

He said in engagements with their KNP colleagues, it had emerged that part of what enabled poaching was sensitive information being released by staff to poachers.

The Ezemvelo CEO said they had engaged the staff and the union on this intervention, and while they could not fire people based on polygraph test results they would be able to relocate them to less sensitive areas and monitor their actions.

Other interventions include the appointment of a rhino security manager who will start his duties on April 1.

They had also procured a helicopter with night vision capability.

The informer programme to gather intelligence from communities has also been redeployed.

“This is important because most of the poachers tend to reside in communities adjacent to protected areas and they (poachers) pay a lot of money to those communities in order to help penetrate the protected areas.”

Fences were also erected and there was increased community engagement in order to get the support of the neighbouring residents.

Creecy agreed that the situation was concerning.

“The pressure again has been felt in KwaZulu-Natal with Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park facing the brunt of poaching cases.”

She said all was not lost as law enforcement agencies were dealing with those caught. She said in relation to rhino prosecutions, verdicts were handed down in 36 cases of which 35 resulted in guilty verdicts and one in a not-guilty verdict.

The cases resulted in the conviction of 45 accused rhino poachers/rhino horn traffickers.

The WWF said it would be supporting improving field ranger capacity at Ezemvelo through targeted training and improving living conditions for rangers.

Jeff Cooke, WWF Black Rhino Range Expansion Project leader, said: “KwaZulu-Natal has a proud record of having played a critical role in rhino conservation in South Africa when rhino numbers had dwindled to just a few hundred animals.

“This is why we are committing resources towards supporting the authorities in their efforts to turn the tide.

“There is a growing recognition of the importance of professionalising rangers working on the front line of conservation efforts by improving morale and building trust within law enforcement teams.

“It is also imperative that we continue to focus on growing rhino numbers and increasing range as quickly as possible, through efforts such as the Black Rhino Range Expansion Project.”

Heinz de Boer, DA KZN spokesperson for Economic Development, Tourism, and Environmental Affairs, said the rhino statistics indicated that poaching was completely out of control, both within the country and within KZN.

“Year on year we are seeing increased rhino stats coming out of KwaZulu Natal.”

De Boer said what is worrying is that statistics show poaching within private reserves, and as a result many private land owners choose not to keep rhinos anymore, adding that this has a direct impact on tourism.

De Boer added in KZN rhino were hardly being dehorned, compared to the Kruger National Park which had a dedicated dehorning programme.

“Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife as a provincial entity is completely incapable of dehorning rhino and as statistics now show this is a very effective preventive measure in stopping rhino poaching.”

Steven Moodley, IFP KZN spokesperson on Environmental Affairs said poaching presented a critical threat to wildlife-based tourism operations in KZN.

“Poaching and illegal wildlife trade are not only affecting the conservation of the targeted species, they are also increasingly threatening the livelihoods and security of the affected human populations.”

He said the party called for the ramping up of anti-poaching measures, illegal trade routes to be shut down and efforts to reduce rhino horn demand being strengthened.

The Mercury

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