Rhino poaching and illegal trade declining but remain critical

22 August 2022 - 18:19
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A baby white rhino with his mother in the Kruger National Park. A new report shows that threats to African rhino from transnational crime networks remain high. (File picture).
A baby white rhino with his mother in the Kruger National Park. A new report shows that threats to African rhino from transnational crime networks remain high. (File picture).
Image: 123rf/simoneemanphotography

Transnational organised crime networks and the corruption they create continue to threaten rhino.

These networks are also a risk to the safety and security of wildlife and the people living around them and those working to conserve them, wildlife practice leader at World Wide  Fund for Nature (WWF) Dr Margaret Kinnaird said on Monday.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) African Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG) on Monday released updated information on rhino populations, showing threats to African rhino from transnational crime networks remain high despite the reported pause during Covid-19 lockdown periods.

“We know these challenges are global in nature and transnational collaboration and co-operation is required to overcome them; such as has been proven through multi-agency wildlife crime units.

“We must continue targeted efforts to build resilience to corruption and to address the problem at the source of illegal demand for rhino horn,” Kinnaird said.

The report highlighted that rhino populations co-managed through partnerships between local people, private sector and state agencies are performing better than those managed solely by state agencies.

The report found rhino poaching rates in Africa have continued to decline from a peak of 5.3% of the total population in 2015 to 2.3% in 2021.

At least 2,707 rhino were poached in Africa between 2018 and 2021, accounting for the white rhino, which is vulnerable on the IUCN red list of threatened species, and the rarer critically endangered black rhino.

Between 2018 and 2021 overall numbers of the critically endangered black rhino increased at a rate of 3% a year to 6,200 animals. 

Of ongoing concern, however, was that white rhino numbers continued to decline at about 3.1% per year and numbered just below 16,000 animals at the end of 2021.

The declining white rhino populations mainly occur in the large state-managed protected areas in SA.

The total estimate of rhino in Africa was 22,137 at the end of 2021. These latest figures show an overall decline in rhino numbers on the continent, from 23,562 at the last report in 2017.

SA accounted for 90% of all reported cases, mainly affecting white rhino in Kruger National Park, home to the world’s largest white rhino population.

As a result, overall white rhino numbers on the continent declined by almost 12% (from 18,067 to 15,942 individuals) during this period, while populations of black rhino increased by just over 12% (from 5,495 to 6,195 individuals).

African rhino lead for WWF Dr Jo Shaw said the news about increased black rhino numbers in Africa was encouraging, as it underscored the value of creating new habitat and growing numbers of rhino and the need to continue to commit to these efforts in future.

“We must support the partnerships required between state agencies, local communities and private sector to secure future range for rhino and work towards broader conservation benefits to wildlife and people.”

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