Rhino poaching in KZN surges
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Durban - Rhino poaching in KwaZulu-Natal has surged to the highest levels in more than a century, with 132 of the iconic horned animals killed this year alone - a more than 400% increase compared with five years ago.
Provincial rhino security head Cedric Coetzee said on Wednesday that the latest death toll in this province was now “the highest it has been”.
While the number of poachers arrested had doubled over the past year, the number of rhinos deaths in KZN had increased significantly compared with last year, when 97 were killed. The death toll was just 34 in 2011.
During one particularly bloody episode about six weeks ago, a gang believed to be from Limpopo province slaughtered 23 rhinos in two weeks in the flagship Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, the cradle of global rhino conservation.
During the late 19th century, a small population of the last remaining southern white rhinos in the world were found in this reserve. They were rescued from extinction and the park later served to restock the almost annihilated white rhino populations in Kruger National Park and elsewhere in Africa.
Since the dramatic escalation in rhino poaching, which began eight years ago, most of the slaughter has been in the Kruger National Park. But observers fear that with the steady reduction in rhino numbers in Kruger, coupled with more intensive security measures, poachers have shifted their attention to parks with richer or easier pickings.
Speaking at a conservation symposium near Howick on Wednesday, Coetzee acknowledged that tougher security in Kruger had dispersed poachers to other provinces, including KZN. He suggested that the recent intensified assault on Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife rhino parks might have been compounded by the fact that many private owners in this province had now dehorned most of their rhinos to deter poachers.
It is understood that many of the recent deaths at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi have been in the vulnerable Corridor section, where a public tar road cuts through the centre of the park.
Coetzee said security in the Corridor had been tightened and Ezemvelo was also establishing intensive protection zones (IPZs) in local rhino reserves. While he did not disclose details of the new security zones, the IPZ strategy in Kruger, Zimbabwe and Kenya has often involved moving rhino towards fortress-like areas close to the centre of a park to reduce poaching incursions close to border fences.
“We estimate that they take about 20 minutes to remove the horns and get out. They try to reduce their time in the park as much as possible.”
In one recent incident, security patrols recovered a crossbow from a poaching gang, It was thought the weapon was being used to kill rhinos more silently, since rangers were alerted by gunshots.
Nationwide, nearly 6 000 rhino have been slaughtered in the past eight years, with 1 175 killed throughout the country in 2015 alone.