Cape Town - Following multiple delays, SA's Department of Environmental Affairs has finally revealed the rhino poaching statistics for 2016.
A total of 1 054 rhino were poached, they say, indicating a 10.3% decline from 2015 stats of 1 175.
This statement covers the period January through December 2016, which is inclusive of the period September to December 2016.
Specifically for the KNP, a total of 662 rhino carcases were found in 2016 compared to 826 in 2015. This represents a reduction of 19.85% in 2016.
While the rhino poaching stats have declined according to the DEA, the fight against poaching in SA continues to spread in every way thinkable.
Poaching epidemic spreads to other species, provinces
While there has been a decrease in the number of rhino killed for their horns in the Kruger National Park and Mpumalanga, the number of rhino poached increased in some other provinces.
"This indicates that syndicates are feeling the pressure from the interventions being employed in the KNP," the DEA says.
Also, while the rhino poaching incidents have declined in the KNP, the number of illegal incursions into the Kruger National Park continues to increase.
For 2016, there were a staggering 2883 instances of poaching-related activities (such as poaching camps, contacts, crossings, sightings, tracks and shots fired) in the Park, compared to 2 466 recorded in the same period in 2015. This is an increase of 16.9%.
"These criminal gangs are armed to the teeth," the DEA says, "well-funded and part of transnational syndicates who will stop at nothing to get their hands on rhino horn".
The poaching epidemic is also spreading to other iconic species, a concern which the DEA has acknowledged.
In 2016, 46 elephants were poached in the Kruger National Park, the DEA says.
The interventions being implemented to counter rhino poaching are also used to respond to this emerging threat.
It is clear that more financial resources are required to address this challenge that we are experiencing in terms of both rhino and elephant poaching.
Odds against them
As if rhinos do not have enough odds against them, the DEA also found that the deaths of rhino in the KNP has risen, as a result of the past drought.
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During September 2016, a rhino survey using the scientifically accepted block count method recorded that a total of 6 649 - 7 830 white rhino lived in Kruger National Park.
This is lower than the 8 365 - 9 337 that lived in the Kruger National Park during 2015. "It must be noted that the natural deaths of white rhino increased due to the unprecedented drought conditions," they say.
The small total of 349 – 465 black rhino were spotted in Kruger National Park in 2016 compared to 313 – 453 in 2015. Although "the drought effect was not as noticeable on the black rhinos," the DEA says, the small number of this specie in the park indicates to its dire fight for survival.
Legal domestic trade in rhino horn still on the cards
Meanwhile, the DEA again addressed its plan to legalise domestic rhino horn trade.
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"We have finalised the amendments to the Norms and Standards for the marking of rhinoceros and rhinoceros horn, and the hunting of rhinoceros for trophy hunting purposes. These amendments are now subject to the approval processes for implementation," they say.
On 8 February 2017, the DEA published three notices for public participation. The first contained provisions relating to proposed regulations for the domestic trade in rhino horn, the second one proposes prohibitions on the powdering and shaving of rhino horn, and the third notice contains a proposal to remove the Eastern black rhinoceros from the list of invasive species and to include it in the list of threatened or protected species (as a protected species).
A moratorium or prohibition on the domestic trade in rhino horn was implemented in 2009 as one of the measures to address the illegal killing of rhino and the illegal trade in rhino horn. "This prohibition," the DEA says, "was implemented to enable government to develop and implement compliance, regulatory, monitoring and enforcement mechanisms to ensure domestic trade is well managed and regulated, while illegal activities are prosecuted.
"In considering actions to be taken relating to the moratorium and in response to the ongoing litigation, a set of regulations complying with various laws and international conservation bodies were developed," they say.
"This set of proposed regulations will ensure that there is no gap in regulatory provisions, thus ensuring the strict regulation of a prospective domestic trade in rhino horn."
Public outcry ensued from this proposal, which conservationists saying the move will stimulate the market exponentially.
SEE: #ShockWildlifeTruths: 'Vague' rhino horn trade draft regulations questioned
The commercial international trade in rhino horn is prohibited in terms of the CITES.
Fighting rhino poaching in SA
SA's Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros, the multi-sectoral, interdisciplinary approach involving Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and the South African National Parks (SANParks), the Department of Defence (as a leader of the SANDF) the South African Police Service (SAPS) and its Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI) also known as the Hawks, the State Security Agency (SSA), the South African Revenue Service (SARS), the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, as well as the provincial conservation authorities, is gaining momentum the DEA says.
The Integrated Strategic Management Approach comprises four pillars, namely:
Managing Rhino Populations
Long-term sustainability Interventions
All of the four pillars are implemented in the context of regional and international cooperation.
These have delivered a number of satisfying results in terms of compulsory interventions as well as managing existing rhino populations.
"We are pleased to announce that in the period under review, there has been an increase in the number of arrests for poaching-related offences inside the Kruger National Park, the area hardest hit by poaching," the DEA says.
During 2016, the SAPS reported that a total of 680 poachers and traffickers were arrested for rhino-related poaching offences nationally. This is a marked increase in arrests from 317 in 2015. Of this number, 417 were arrested both within and outside the Kruger National Park.
A total of 148 firearms were seized inside the Park in 2016, and 6 just outside the Park.
In 2016, the Green Scorpions trained 905 border officials on initiatives focused on the Illicit International Cross Border Movement of Endangered Species.
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