Rhino Poaching Increases In South Africa

More rhinos have been killed in South Africa in the past 10 months than were killed in all of 2010, new poaching numbers reveal. Statistics from South Africa National Parks show that 341 animals have been lost to poaching so far in 2011, compared to a record total of 333 last year. 

South Africa’s grim milestone comes on the heels of an announcement by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) last week that Vietnam’s last Javan rhino has gone extinct.

The spike in poaching throughout Africa and South Asia has been caused largely by increased demand for horn in Vietnam for medicinal products. Law enforcement efforts, while increasing, are not yet sufficient to protect rhinos from poachers or stop the smuggling and sale of their horns by organized crime rings.

“The value of a rhino goes well beyond its horn,” says Dr. Barney Long, WWF’s Asian species expert. “Rhinos have been an integral part of the natural world for tens of millions of years, and humankind is causing dramatic declines in just a few decades. We can change the outcome.”

South Africa has been the focal point of poaching because it has the largest population of rhinos in the world. Law enforcement efforts there have been scaled up resulting in more arrests, and some of those convicted are being sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

“Vietnam should follow South Africa’s example and start sending poachers, traders, smugglers and sellers to jail,” says Dr. Joseph Okori, WWF’s African rhino program coordinator.  “In order to save rhinos from extinction, the criminal syndicates operating between South Africa and Vietnam must be uncovered and shut down for good.”
Despite an international ban on commercial trade under CITES, rhino horn continues to be smuggled illegally from Africa to Asia. Additionally, legal loopholes allowing for the export of rhino hunting trophies are being exploited in some South African provinces. Improvements are needed in the regulation of hunting permits and the management rhino horn stock piles in the country. 
“Since armed protection for rhinos in South African national parks is strong, poaching syndicates are likely to shift to countries with weaker enforcement power, including possibly Asian countries that may be caught off-guard,” said Dr. Carlos Drews, Global Species Program Director at WWF.

In September a delegation of Vietnamese officials visited South Africa to discuss enhancing law enforcement cooperation between the two countries.  Last year, with the support of the US State Department, TRAFFIC facilitated a similar visit to Vietnam for South African authorities.

Of the five species of rhinoceros, three are critically endangered. With the loss of the Vietnamese Javan rhino, there are now less than 50 Javan rhinos remaining, all in one national park in Indonesia.