A white rhino mom with her baby.
A white rhino mom with her baby.

Rhino poaching stats ‘don’t reflect facts’

By Sheree Bega Time of article published Jan 23, 2016

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Johannesburg - The minister of environmental affairs described it as “great cause for optimism”. But for rhino expert Tom Milliken, the slightly reduced rhino statistics reveal only how deeply poaching is entrenched.

On Thursday, the minister, Edna Molewa, announced that poachers had slaughtered 1 175 of the animals last year – marginally down from the record 1 215 in 2014. This was the first decline in rhino poaching figures since 2007.

But Milliken, of Traffic, the global wildlife trade monitoring network, believes there is little cause for celebration.

“What these figures show is that in 2014, we were losing 3.3 rhinos a day, now it’s 3.2 animals. It’s a modest improvement. In reality, it means the status quo is entrenched. It’s almost at the tipping point.”

Milliken doubts the accuracy of official poaching statistics.

“These are just the numbers for the rhinos that were detected as having been illegally killed.

“When your numbers are high like that and given the terrain in places such as the Kruger National Park, there’s the possibility carcasses may go undetected. It’s hard to see (the latest statistics) as a major change in the situation.

“This could be calves that wander off and die when their mothers are killed. They’re likely to go undetected. If that’s the case, the numbers for the past two years are pretty much the same.”

Karen Trendler, a conservation expert who rehabilitates orphaned calves, agrees.

“The statistics don’t take into account the calves that are orphaned, the rhinos that die from being immobilised in the panicked movement of animals by rhino owners or when they are sold or relocated. The impact is far greater.”

Milliken says overall rhino poaching figures are at a “record high” in Africa.

In briefing the media, Molewa said that considering the increasing poaching pressure and the relentless rise in protected areas, the decline was “very, very good news, and offers great cause for optimism”.

There had been a 10 percent increase in poaching activity in the Kruger National Park.

“It is clear that were it not for the interventions, the situation would be far worse and many more rhino would be lost.

“What is particularly good about this news is that while poaching numbers often rise drastically over December, this time the much-feared year-end spike was averted. It is undeniable this is because of the efforts of our people, in particular the concerted efforts of our law-enforcement and security agencies.”

Molewa said the country’s rhino population was stable. A survey in the Kruger National Park last year found there were as many as 9 300 white rhino.

The department lost its application for leave to appeal against a North Gauteng High Court judgment that overturned the decade-old ban on domestic trade in rhino horn. Molewa is taking the matter to the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Milliken, who is “puzzled” by the court’s decision, contends there is no domestic market for rhino horn.

“I think what’s likely to happen is certain private sector players will sell off their horn to some random buyer, who’s then probably going to export it illegally – and it will become another avenue for illegal trade in destinations outside South Africa.

“In Vietnam and China, wearing rhino horn as a bracelet is to show people how rich you are and that you have connections who can defy international law enforcement to obtain commodities as rare and precious as rhino horn. You don’t have that kind of thing going on in South Africa.”

John Hume, the world’s largest rhino breeder, believes that even after being refused leave to appeal, the “government will bend over backwards” to stop the sale of domestic horn.

It worries Milliken that high-profile rhino poaching kingpins like Dawie Groenewald – first nabbed five years ago – have yet to have a day in court. “What we really need to see is an aggressive stance against corruption.”

Saturday Star

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