Last year saw more rhinos poached on the African continent than in any years previously, according to the latest figures released by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This is the sixth year in a row since the poaching of the iconic animals exploded in 2008 that the numbers of rhinos slaughtered has increased. Despite the small successes documented in South Africa, which actually saw the number of rhinos killed fall slightly last year, this has been offset by “alarming increases in poaching” seen in neighboring Namibia and Zimbabwe.
It is thought highly likely that as protection for the rhino has been stepped up in South Africa, where the illegal hunting of the animals represents a significant loss of revenue from tourism, the organized criminal operations have moved to exploit other more exposed populations in surrounding nations. This has led to a record 1,338 rhinos being slaughtered in 2015 for their horn, the demand for which is driven by markets in Southeast Asia, meaning that since 2008 at least 5,940 of the beasts have been lost.
The number of rhinos poached in South Africa, like this one, has actually decreased, though the number killed in all of Africa has still risen. Foto24/Getty Images
Despite the number of white rhinos, the most numerous of the two species found in Africa, stabilizing at roughly 20,000 of the animals and the populations of black rhino actually increasing, the rate of population growth is simply being too heavily repressed by the numbers being killed. It is now thought that if the current levels of poaching were to continue, within a single decade the only surviving rhino will exist in captivity. The cause for the deaths is still being driven by the demand from Asian nations such as China, Vietnam, Laos, and, according to the IUCN, a worrying increase in the market in South Korea.
With South Africa home to almost four-fifths of all African rhinos, it has predictably borne the brunt of the illegal killings, racking up 85 percent of the total number poached. Yet it seems that last year the massive increase in anti-poaching patrols and security that went into protecting the animals might have paid off. Even though Kruger National Park, which holds the majority of the country’s rhinos, is thought to have seen their numbers decrease, this has been offset by increases in other parks and reserves.
“This is testimony to the valiant and enormous efforts underway – often against overwhelming odds – to curb the losses,” says Inger Andersen, the Director General of IUCN. “It also demonstrates the commitment of field rangers who – at tremendous cost to themselves and their families – work tirelessly, risking their lives daily.”
The number of the animals killed in 2015 is thought to represent a loss to the South African economy of around $25 million, which is one of the reasons why there has been such a concerted effort to protect those remaining animals. But for some private reserves the pressure, added financial cost, and risk to the lives of staff of protecting rhino on their land has simply become too great, leading to many selling up their rhino.
As poachers are getting more and more sophisticated in their techniques to evade capture, the authorities have to continue to step up their game. With only an estimated 25,000 rhino left in Africa, the situation has become dire, and requires renewed political will not just from the nations in which the animals live, but also the countries driving the demand for the horn.
Image in text (bottom): Horns seized by the U.K. Border Force. UK Home Office/Flickr CC BY 2.0