Rhino poaching figures released today show that 1,215 rhinos were illegally killed in 2014 in South Africa – a 21 percent increase from the 1,004 rhinos killed in 2013.
This latest figure underscores the ongoing threat to the world’s rhino populations by the multi-billion dollar wildlife trafficking industry. South Africa is home to more than 80 percent of the world’s rhinos.
“These latest rhino poaching figures are a sobering reminder that we are in the midst of a global poaching crisis. The increase in numbers also shows the level of difficulty involved in addressing a multi-faceted issue like rhino poaching, which requires better enforcement and better conservation, and increased effort to reduce consumer demand,” said Matthew Lewis, African Species expert with World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) Wildlife Conservation Program.
“Enforcement is crucial to reducing the number of killings, so that poaching is seen as a serious crime with serious consequences. That means upping jail sentences and increasing political and monetary support for enforcement activities. In parallel, we need to rapidly curb consumer demand in Asia for rhino horn products – or this problem will only get worse in line with a growing Asian middle class.”
The figures, released by South African Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), show that Kruger National Park, which holds the majority of the country’s rhinos, remains the epicenter of illegal activity, losing 827 rhinos during 2014, nearly two-thirds of all animals killed.
South Africa has made progress on increasing enforcement effectiveness, with 386 arrests related to rhino crime this past year, which has been attributed to wildlife rangers patrolling sensitive areas. Last month, the leader of KwaZulu-Natal’s biggest rhino-poaching syndicate was arrested in a joint operation between anti-poaching and organized crime units in South Africa.
“Meanwhile, moving rhinos to safer areas helps to protect the existing populations and at the same time stimulate breeding, which is key to keeping births outpacing deaths,” said Lewis.
Rhino Program Manager for WWF-South Africa, Dr. Jo Shaw added: “There is no single solution to this complex global crisis. We need to keep working together on the strategic interventions which will have the greatest impact and result in the greatest benefits for our rhinos.”
Community stewardship is also a part of the equation in addressing poaching. Neighboring Namibia has had comparatively little poaching, largely due to its successful community based conservation system which gives rural people a direct stake in conservation.
“Community involvement is key to the long-term survival of rhinos, and we must continue to make efforts to find tangible incentives that allow communities to benefit from conservation,” said Lewis.