Over 1 000 rhinos poached in 2013

20 January 2014

Just over a thousand rhinos were illegally killed in South Africa in 2013, the equivalent of nearly three animals a day, making it the worst year ever for rhino poaching in the country, the Department of Environmental Affairs revealed on Friday.

A total of 1 004 rhinos were poached in 2013, the department reported, compared to 668 rhinos poached in 2012 and 448 in 2011. Thirty-seven rhinos have already been illegally killed since 1 January 2014.

“The number of rhino poachers arrested during 2013 increased considerably, with 343 being arrested, 133 of them in the Kruger National Park,” the department said. “In 2012, 267 alleged poachers were arrested. Since the beginning of 2014, six alleged poachers have been arrested.”

According to independent conservation organisation WWF South Africa (WWF-SA), the increase in poaching is bringing South Africa’s rhino population “ever closer to the tipping point when deaths outnumber births and they go into serious decline”.

The organisation’s rhino programme manager, Jo Shaw, said in a statement on Friday that the criminal networks behind the poaching “are threatening our national security and damaging our economy by frightening away tourists. Rhino poaching and rhino horn trafficking are not simply environmental issues, they represent threats to the very fabric of our society.”

According to WWF-SA, rhino horns are smuggled by organised transnational criminal networks to Asia, mainly Vietnam, where they are primarily used as a status symbol and health tonic.

“There is growing evidence of links between the criminal gangs and other forms of organised crime, including the trafficking of people, drugs and weapons,” WWF-SA said.

In December 2012, South Africa and Vietnam signed a memorandum of understanding on tackling wildlife trafficking between the two nations, and later developed a joint rhino action plan. South Africa signed a similar agreement with China in 2013, and is developing others with Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Hong Kong.

South Africa is also due to sign a memorandum of understanding with neighbouring Mozambique, which borders South Africa’s Kruger National Park and serves as a transit point for rhino horn exiting Africa.

“The bottom line is South Africa’s rhinos are up against the wall, facing a genuine crisis, and international agreements like these have to translate into meaningful action on the ground,” said Shaw.

South Africans are urged to report incidents of poaching and tip-offs to the anonymous tip-off lines 0800 205 005, 08600 10111 or Crime Line on 32211.

SAinfo reporter and WWF-South Africa