THE white rhino experienced declines in population over the past two years due to poaching, new findings released this week revealed.
The population is estimated at 18 000 animals and there were concerns that the species would continue to face declines this year.
This is according to the 2020 State of the Rhino report released by the International Rhino Foundation (IRF), earlier this week.
The foundation released detailed current conservation trends, including the impacts from the global pandemic on the world’s five species of rhinoceros: the white rhinoceros and black rhinoceros in Africa; and the Indian rhinoceros, Javan rhinoceros and Sumatran rhinoceros in Asia.
Approximately 900 rhinos were killed in Africa in 2018, nearly one every 10 hours.
South Africa recently reported that poaching dropped from 319 animals in the first half of last year to 166 in the first half of this year.
“The two species of African rhinos and other wildlife that reside in game reserves are dependent on protection and monitoring personnel for their continued safety,” said IRF’s executive director, Nina Fascione.
The Covid-19 pandemic brought benefits to rhinos and other wildlife in most places.
There has been a decrease in poaching incidents during the first half of the year, according to the report.
This was a result of countries globally closing their borders, restricting international and domestic travel.
International travel restrictions closed wildlife trafficking routes to China and Vietnam, the largest black markets for rhino horn.
As lockdown restrictions began to ease in many countries, poaching began to rise once again, increasing concerns that the devastation of local economies and widespread job losses could lead to an increase in poaching, said the IRF.
In Africa, the black rhino population had a small increase to 5 630 from 5 500 last year, and remains endangered. This is a fraction of the 65 000 historical population level in 1970.
Approximately 2 300 remained in the early 1990s, and the population is forecasted to continue to make small gains.
“Declines in poaching during the global pandemic give us hope that a stronger commitment by governments in enforcing wildlife crime laws can break up large criminal syndicates involved in poaching, allowing rhinos to maintain steady population gains,” said Fascione.
The foundation works closely with field partners to identify short-term needs and long-term strategies to save the rhino species, said IRF spokesperson Christopher Whitlatch.
“Projects that are under way include advanced security and reaction capabilities, the deployment of technology, and work in communities to ensure economic benefit for wildlife conservation. IRF also works to address demand reduction in countries that consume rhino horn,” he said.
Kruger National Park’s Intensive Protection Zone reported zero rhino poaching incidents in April, the first time since 2007.
A spokesperson for the park, Ike Phaahla, said: “In April the country was under heavy lockdown. There was no movement of people and the borders were closed. There were a lot of our law enforcement officials on duty including rangers.”
He said that in the first three days they arrested eight people from Mozambique and confiscated four high-calibre hunting rifles.
“Since the opening we have noticed more poaching activity with more arrests and sightings,” he said.
The Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries said in July that rhino poaching decreased by almost 53% in the first six months of this year.
“This was 166 animals being killed for their horns across the country since the beginning of the year,” they said.
Minister of Forestry and Fisheries and Environmental Affairs Barbara Creecy that with coronavirus-associated countrywide law enforcement measures to restrict movement in place at the time, the decline in rhino poaching compared to the same period last year was striking.
Between the start of the lockdown in March until the end of June, 46 rhinos were poached across the country. Of these, 14 rhinos were poached during April, 13 in May and 19 in June.
As lockdown restrictions have gradually been lifted, rhino poaching incidents have slowly increased, the department said.