Is the Rhino poaching tide turning?

Dr Andrew Ventner, CEO of Wildlands Conservation gives an update on the threat posed to Black Rhino by poaching in Africa.

I was privileged for three weeks to attend a briefing by Jabulani Ngubane, the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (Ezemvelo) Officer tasked with developing and co-ordinating the Provincial strategy to curb Rhino Poaching. His presentation clearly demonstrated that not only is EKZNW determined to stop Rhino poaching, but that they are making significant progress. Their efforts are also part of a National initiative that appears to be gaining momentum. As of the end of June, 193 Rhino had been poached across SA, 126 in the Kruger National Park, 27 in Limpopo, 16 in KwaZulu-Natal and 24 across the balance of the Provinces ( Although this is a scary number – 1 Rhino every 21 hours, it is distorted by the extremely high number of Rhino poached in Kruger. If you exclude Kruger then the current trends suggest that the 2011 figures may be 20% LOWER than 2010 (140 vs. 187)! Kruger’s 2011 figure is currently 126 (vs. 146 in 2010), thus the current trends suggests a 75% increase in Kruger incidents. However, this could simply be a result of the increased scrutiny which is resulting in more carcasses being found. In addition, there has been a significant increase in the number of rhino poaching related arrests. In 2010, a total of 165 arrests were made. 123 arrests have been made this year!

The numbers only tell part of the story. The renewed focus on Rhino poaching has seen a significant re-investment in conservation law enforcement, including new vehicles, additional staff, improved training and monitoring, funding for informer networks, raised Prosecutor and Magistrate awareness and understanding, and increased SANDF presence along our borders. Perversely, the sudden increase in rhino poaching was probably one of the best things that could have happened to South Africa’s conservation efforts, as it has re-focused Government attention on the need to protect our vulnerable natural heritage.

It has also mobilised renewed civil society support with South Africa’s non-profit sector mobilising their networks to raise funds for the anti-poaching efforts. KZN has been blessed by a number of these initiatives, including significant campaigns launched by WWF-SA, WESSA, Wildlands, Wildlife ACT, the African Conservation Trust, Game Rangers Association and the Thanda Foundation, in addition to direct corporate support from Mondi and Waltons. Whilst these efforts are using the Rhino massacre to anchor their efforts, the funds that are being raised are sorely needed in the conservation sector. The danger is that the diversity of appeals could dilute the potential impact of this effort, with each organisation focusing on its own priorities. Thus history was made in July, through the establishment of a ground breaking partnership that will see all these organisations co-ordinating their efforts, together with Ezemvelo, under a common campaign banner – PROJECT RHINO. I have no doubt that this collective effort will have a significant impact.

Unfortunately, the news is not all good. Africa Geographic has reported that Dawie Groenewald, the Professional Hunter arrested last year for poaching and trading in rhino horn, has been issued with 12 new rhino hunting permits and granted permits on at least 8 occasions to “convey” rhino. This despite currently being out of jail on a R 1 million bail! This is contradictory in the extreme and highlights the fact that the corruption battle is still being fought.

Dr Andrew Venter, CEO Wildlands Conservation Trust

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