The iSimangaliso Wetland Park is a refuge for the country’s rhino population, with both black and white rhino protected in the World Heritage Site’s ideal habitat.
According to statistics released by the Department of Environmental Affairs up to August 2018, a total of 7638 rhino had been poached in South Africa in a decade. Statistical estimates of rhino numbers in South Africa suggest that less than 20 000 white rhino and around 2000 black rhino remain in the country, which accounts for almost three-quarters of the world’s population.
The uMkhuze section of the Park is one of the oldest sanctuaries for these rhinos, many of which were subsequently translocated during the past decade into the Eastern and Western Shores sections as the landscape was rehabilitated from forestry back to natural grasslands and savannah. The first of these translocations took place in 2004, during what was then the second most severe drought in a century, with 23 rhino moved to the Eastern Shores. A further mass translocation from uMkhuze took place in 2016 under even more extreme drought conditions, adding to the existing populations on both sides of Lake St Lucia.
With the growing and relentless pressure of illegal hunting on all protected rhino reserves, including a number of poaching incidents in the Park, the iSimangaliso Authority took the decision in 2015 to implement a dehorning programme on the Western Shores population. This process was repeated in 2017 to remove the horn regrowth. In the latest round of dehorning, management decided to include the Eastern Shores population, as well as the country, remains under severe threat by poachers.
iSimangaliso CEO Sibusiso Bukhosini, said: “Our strong anti-poaching team has encountered and interrupted numerous incursions in recent months by people seeking to harm our wildlife. In addition, a number of smaller reserves in the region have implemented dehorning measures, resulting in our population becoming more vulnerable to this pressure.
"A consensus was therefore reached between ourselves and our conservation management partner, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, to strengthen our protection of rhino by adding the deterrent of horn removal on the Eastern Shores. We understand that dehorning is not a guarantee of safety, and in no way replaces the need to remain extremely vigilant, but it is seen as one of many interventions that improve the protection of our wildlife.”
“iSimangaliso is firmly and unequivocally committed to protecting our World Heritage Site and its assets from harm for the benefit of all of our landowners, stakeholders, visitors and future generations,” he added.