South Africa saw 59 fewer rhinos killed for their horns in the first six months of 2022 compared with the same period in 2019.
This comes after an alarming spike in December 2021 when poachers killed 24 rhinos over 11 days. In total, 451 rhinos were poached in South Africa last year, whereas 594 were killed in 2019.
Between January and June this year, 259 rhinos were poached, down from 318 rhinos in the first six months of 2019, according to department of forestry, fisheries and environment statistics published on Monday.
At the Kruger National Park, 82 rhinos were poached from January to June. KwaZulu-Natal recorded the highest number at 133 rhinos, about four times the 33 rhinos killed in the province over the same period last year.
“Recent trends in rhino poaching show a move away from the Kruger Park to private reserves and KwaZulu-Natal where the majority of rhinos have been killed this year,” said Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Minister Barbara Creecy.
The half year statistics have raised concerns about poaching activities on private reserves, showing an increase over the past three years. In 2019, 15% of the reported loss of rhinos were on private property, dipping to 9% in 2020, before spiking to 30% in 2021.
“This makes it all the more important for the national government to shift its focus to supporting provincial authorities and private reserves in the war on rhino poaching,” said Creecy.
To boost its efforts to combat wildlife trafficking, South Africa widened its international partnerships to transit and end user countries in Southeast Asia, especially with China, Malaysia and Vietnam, according to the department.
Transnational cooperation between the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks) and authorities in Malaysia and Qatar led to the arrest of an alleged rhino horn trafficker at Doha Airport in Qatar. Another four alleged rhino horn traffickers were arrested between January and June this year at OR Tambo International Airport while attempting to smuggle 56 rhino horns out of the country.
The department said these arrests demonstrated “the success of country-to-country cooperation to combat wildlife trafficking at an international level”.
Nationwide, 69 people were arrested in connection with rhino poaching and rhino horn trafficking over the same period of six months. Of these, 13 were arrested at the Kruger National Park.
A total of 51 cases, in which 51 people were convicted, have been finalised.
“The heaviest sentence handed down was 34 years imprisonment, while two Mpumalanga men were sentenced to 28 year[s] behind bars for killing rhinos and being in possession of illegal firearms and ammunition,” the department said.
It also attributed its successes to a joint effort between law enforcement agencies, the South African Police Service, the Hawks, the Environmental Management Inspectorate, known as the Green Scorpions, customs officials and the National Prosecuting Authority.
Despite the decline in rhino poaching “the demand for rhino horn remains a constant threat to our rhino populations as crime syndicates continue to operate within our borders”, the department cautioned.
Members of the public can report any suspicious activities to the department’s environmental crime hotline, 0800 205 005 or the police on 10111.