A white rhino cow, just after being darted from a helicopter to collect DNA samples. Extensive DNA research on rhinos resulted in the African rhino being the only wild animal whose body parts can be traced back to the individual animal from which they were removed. PICTURE: Armand Hough
Johannesburg - South Africa’s long-awaited rhino poaching statistics indicated an ongoing demand for rhino horn despite “huge efforts” to discourage poachers and dampen consumer demand in South East Asia.

This is according to Dr Mike Knight, the chairperson of the IUCN SSC African Rhino Specialist Group, who said the stats indicated “that through making a huge effort to manage financial and human resources properly, one can reduce the threat to rhinos. It does raise concerns around sustainability."

This week, Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa announced 529 rhino had been killed since January this year, compared to 542 in the same period for 2016, describing it as “evidence of a downward trend” in poaching.

Knight said the toll “raises the need to be clever and use the limited resources wisely. Through focused and co-operative intelligence sharing nationally between government departments and internationally one can make the life of poachers and rhino traffickers and buyers more difficult, especially if you hit them where it hurts the most - their money flow".

“This would in theory stop the poachers before they get to the rhinos. This requires a whole-government response. This has happened, albeit in rather a slow and lethargic manner, in response to organised criminal networks.”

Molewa praised the 34% reduction in poaching in the Kruger National Park, but said the threat of poaching was now a “challenge” to other provinces, particularly KwaZulu-Natal. There, over 148 rhino have been slaughtered so far this year.

At least 15 rhino poaching cases had been finalised since early January, leading to the conviction of 22 criminals who were sentenced to a collective total of 95 years in jail.

But Kim Da Ribiera, of Outraged South African Citizens Against Poaching, said the statistics revealed that despite efforts by the government and various other organisations, and the vast amounts of money being spent on anti-poaching measures, “as a collective we don’t appear to be making headway".

“It’s now many years down the line and South Africa still does not have a co-ordinated approach to combating poaching.

“It appears as if systems and plans are being put in place without a real understanding of the overall implications these could have. Security in the Kruger was increased and the syndicates have targeted areas like KwaZulu-Natal. Surely this probability should have been highlighted as a risk and measures to mitigate this should have been put in place.”

Pelham Jones, the chairperson of the Private Rhino Owners Association, said the “alarming shift” of poaching to KwaZulu-Natal had been predicted two years ago.

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see this was going to happen, as criminals become more efficient and concentrations of rhino become diluted, the criminals will always look for softest target.

“Therefore, they have swung their attention down to KwaZulu-Natal, which is easily accessible to Mozambique border.

“KwaZulu-Natal is rhino central. It has the greatest density of rhino in Africa. That the figures have been as low as they have there is a huge compliment to the excellent work by security staff and provincial and private reserves but you cannot keep the enemy at bay 24/7.

“These statistics show we’re not winning - and that’s the bottom line. We’re applying more of the same. Yes, we’re curbing rhino poaching. But what is not being told is that the incursions by poachers are significantly higher than in the past,” Jones said.

Saturday Star