Rhino poaching crisis worsens with 62% of deaths recorded in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park

Veterinarians and forensic investigators are on a private game reserve investigate the killing and dehorning of rhino in 2021. File Picture: Henk Kruger / Independent Newspapers

Veterinarians and forensic investigators are on a private game reserve investigate the killing and dehorning of rhino in 2021. File Picture: Henk Kruger / Independent Newspapers

Published Feb 29, 2024


Environmental Minister Barbara Creecy disclosed distressing statistics which paint a grim picture of the ongoing rhino poaching crisis in KwaZulu-Natal.

The report found that a significant majority of rhino deaths occurred within the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park.

Out of the 499 rhinos lost across South Africa in 2023, a startling 62% were illegally killed in the park. The situation has prompted action from conservation organisations, with WWF and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife spearheading efforts to combat poaching activities and protect rhino populations.

“The pressure again has been felt in the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province with Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park facing the brunt of poaching cases losing 307 of the total national poaching loss. This is the highest poaching loss within this province,” Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Barbara Creecy said on Tuesday.

Four hundred and six rhinos were killed on state properties and 93 on privately owned parks, reserves and/or farms. This was an increase of 51 in comparison to 448 rhinos poached in 2022.

Addressing a media briefing on the 2023 national rhino poaching statistics in St Lucia, KwaZulu-Natal, the Minister said the province recorded 49 arrests and 13 firearms were seized by multi-disciplinary teams that continue to work tirelessly in an attempt to slow the pressure on rhino poaching.

The Kruger National Park (KNP) recorded a 37% decrease from 2022 with a total of 78 rhino poached in 2023. No rhinos were poached in any other National Parks.

Jeff Cooke, WWF Black Rhino Range Expansion Project Leader, emphasised the importance of professionalising ranger teams and increasing rhino numbers to mitigate the impact of poaching.

“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.”

Despite recent positive trends indicating a slight increase in rhino populations across Africa, the poaching crisis remains a significant threat to their survival. Cooke stressed the need for sustained efforts to combat illegal trade in rhino horn and protect these majestic creatures from harm.

“This is one tangible area of work where WWF is hoping it can make a difference. 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, in the hope of building resilience in the populations to guard against the poaching onslaught,” Cooke concluded.

“A consolidated list of investigating instructions pertaining to rhino and abalone cases has been developed to ensure that comprehensive investigations are requested,” the Minister said.

In the 2023/24 financial year, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) embarked on a consultative process to revise both the Black and White Rhinoceros Biodiversity Management Plans (BMP) in line with the provision of the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act.

“The revision of the BMP aims to address the needs of both black and white rhino, provide a strategic approach and detailed action plan to conserving rhino in South Africa and for engaging with range States to the north.

It consolidates previous work at policy and planning level on rhino management into a single integrated tool in order to usher in a whole of society approach in the interest of both the rhinos and the people of South Africa. The revised draft BMP will be published in a Government Gazette for public participation in the near future,” Creecy said.

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