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Significant decline in rhino poaching since start of lockdown

By Sheree Bega Time of article published May 22, 2020

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South Africa has experienced a "significant decline" in rhino poaching since the lockdown started with 14 rhino poached nationwide during April - the first month of the national Covid-19 lockdown.

Barbara Creecy, Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, said yesterday that April 2020 saw a marked decrease in rhino poaching countrywide, with the fewest rhinos poached in the Kruger National Park in a single month since September 2013.

“This could be attributed to the reduction in rhino poaching activities to the disruption of the supply chain resulting from the national travel restrictions, including limitations placed on movement across the country,” she said in a statement.

A total of 46 rhino were poached nationwide in March 2020. 

“We believe that the closure of our borders and the complete shutdown of international air travel removed the key way that syndicates used to supply horn to transit and consumer countries,” said Creecy.

In the Kruger National Park, five rhino were killed during April 2020, compared to 46 in April 2019. 

In KwaZulu-Natal six rhino were poached, two were killed in Mpumalanga and one in North West Province. 

In April 2019, a total of 61 rhino were poached nationwide.

"Significantly, not a single rhino has been lost in the Intensive Protection Zone of the Kruger since the start of April. This has not happened in this particular part of the Greater Kruger area in a single month since 2007."

The sharp decrease in rhino poaching in the Kruger last month comes after the park recorded that the number of births equalled the combined natural and poaching deaths for the first time in five years by the end of 2019.

However, despite the lockdown, incursions into the park by rhino poachers have continued."There has been an increase in the effectiveness of the K9 unit using free running hounds supported by rapid reaction through air support and improved mobility."

Minister Creecy applauded rangers. Between January and April 2020, 33 poachers were arrested and 20 heavy calibre firearms confiscated.  

Her statement said that following an intelligence-driven operation, police arrested three suspects in Limpopo after they were found in possession of six rhino horn. 

The two men and a woman have been charged with trafficking of rhino horn.  "During the arrest, six rhino horn, a sizeable amount of cash, three vehicles and a number of hunting knives were confiscated."

On bushmeat poaching, rangers continue to remove between 80 and 150 snares from especially the western boundary of the Kruger. 

"It should be noted that poaching for bushmeat in the Kruger has not increased because of the lockdown."

SANParks has closed park entrance gates to tourists under the lockdown.  "This has had an impact on poaching as poachers are now unable to use drive-in and drop-off tactics they had previously utilised to kill rhino for their horn. 

“The dedication of essential staff, particularly our rangers, anti-poaching and canine (K9) teams who remain on high alert in all our national parks during the Covid-19 national lockdown, is to be commended."

The Saturday Star

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