WASHINGTON, DC – An astonishing 333 rhinos were illegally killed in South Africa in 2010, including 10 critically endangered black rhinos, according to South African national park officials.
The annual total is the highest ever experienced in South Africa and nearly triple 2009 numbers when 122 rhinos were killed. An additional five rhinos have already been lost to poaching in the first week of 2011.
Kruger National Park, the world famous safari destination, was hardest hit, losing 146 rhinos to poaching in 2010, authorities said. The park is home to the largest populations of both white and black rhinos in the country.
“Rhino poaching in South Africa has doubled annually for the past three years, and shows no sign of slowing down in 2011,” said Matthew Lewis, Senior Program Officer for African species conservation at World Wildlife Fund (WWF). “The time for action to stop this poaching onslaught is now, we cannot afford to wait.”
Rhinos constitute one of the much-revered “Big 5” of African wildlife tourism, in addition to elephants, lions, leopards and Cape buffalo. Rhino poaching across Africa has risen sharply in the past few years, threatening to reverse hard-won population increases achieved by governments and conservation groups during the 20th century.
The first alarming yearly spike occurred in 2008 when 83 rhinos were lost. South Africa responded by intensifying its law enforcement efforts, and made approximately 162 poaching arrests last year. The current wave of poaching is being committed by sophisticated criminal networks using helicopters, night-vision equipment, veterinary tranquilizers and silencers to kill rhinos at night while attempting to avoid law enforcement patrols.
“This is not typical poaching,” Said Dr. Joseph Okori, WWF African Rhino Program Manager. “The criminal syndicates operating in South Africa are highly organized and use advanced technologies. They are very well coordinated.”
The recent killing increase is largely due to heightened demand for rhino horn, which has long been prized as an ingredient in traditional Asian medicine
“In order to halt this massacre, we need to significantly step up resources for law enforcement, both in Africa and in Asian consumer countries, where any and all trade in rhino horn is illegal," Lewis said. “This is not simply a local problem for South Africa, it is driven by global forces, and a global response is needed to combat it.”
South Africa is home to approximately 21,000 rhinos, more than any other country in the world. Black rhinos are listed as critically endangered with only about 4,200 remaining, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). About 1,670 black rhinos were estimated to be living in South Africa in 2009. The country's other resident species, white rhinos, are classified as near threatened on IUCN’s Red List of threatened species.
In South Africa, WWF’s Black Rhino Range Expansion Project aims to increase the overall numbers of black rhino by making available additional breeding lands through partnerships with owners of large areas of black rhino habitat.
WWF and TRAFFIC – the joint WWF and IUCN wildlife trade monitoring network – are supporting anti-poaching efforts both on the ground and internationally. In South Africa, the groups are helping train local rangers, facilitating regional dialogue on security, and introducing new technologies such as transmitters in rhino horns and sniffer dogs. Internationally WWF and TRAFFIC are working to address the demand for rhino horn in Vietnam by working with regional bodies to monitor rhino horn trade and by finding policy solutions.