Poachers not just a threat to rhinos - they bring organised crime: WWF

25 January 2018 - 15:43 By Timeslive
Image: Thaya Bedford

The ongoing rhino poaching challenge is not only spreading to other species but also impacting on rural people living around protected areas through exposure to organised crime syndicates.

This is the reaction by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to the statistics released by the Department of Environmental Affairs on rhinos killed illegally in 2017.

The figures showed that 1‚028 rhino were illegally killed during 2017.

This was a small decline from the 1‚054 recorded as poached during 2016‚ which in turn was a reduction from the record loss of 1‚215 recorded in 2014.

The WWF said 2017 also appeared to show a shift to poaching impacts on other species‚ with elephant losses in Kruger National Park reported to have increased to 67 in 2017‚ compared to 46 in 2016.

It said these were important trends to address now to be ahead of the curve and prevent the escalation seen previously for rhino poaching.

The organisation said wildlife trafficking was not just about the impacts on rhinos‚ elephants or protected areas.

“Exposure to unwanted criminal elements operating within poaching syndicates is unravelling the social fabric in communities and our responses need to also reflect and address this‚” the organisation said.

African rhino programme manager for WWF International‚ Dr Jo Shaw‚ said wildlife trafficking remained a pervasive threat to rhinos‚ and increasingly to other species such as elephants and lions which brought tourists and jobs to important protected areas.

Shaw said there was need for ongoing government collaboration between agencies‚ across borders and with private sector and civil society to stop the damage being done to wildlife and people.

“At the same time‚ we need to work to find a way to empower people living around protected areas to benefit legally from wildlife and become invested in their survival‚” Shaw said.

Dr Margaret Kinnaird‚ WWF Wildlife Practice Leader‚ said news of the reduction in numbers of rhinos killed illegally was encouraging‚ but the numbers were still far too high.