ON THE UP: Rhino numbers are increasing despite widespread poaching. Picture: GALLO IMAGES
The number of rhino poached in South Africa last year was the highest yet recorded, but on the positive side, there are encouraging signs that rhino conservation work is heading in the right direction.
Dr Jacques Flamand, head of WWF’s (Worldwide Fund for Nature) black rhino range expansion project, said both the black and white rhino populations were still growing, despite the ongoing threat.
“The annual growth of the overall rhino population, estimated to be about 21000, is about 7%. Just over 2% is removed through poaching and legal hunting, and with increased anti-poaching efforts, more gains in rhino conservation are possible,” said Flamand.
Last year saw 232 poaching-related arrests, compared with 165 the previous year. Sentences imposed for crimes against rhino have also increased, with poachers and horn smugglers getting sentences of up to 16 years in jail.
“Rhino poaching is being run by sophisticated international criminal syndicates who smuggle horn to Asia,” said WWF SA chief executive Dr Morné du Plessis. “It’s not enough to bust the little guy – the one at the bottom of the pyramid who does the actual poaching, investigators need to get to the kingpins.”
He wants to see governments in Africa and Asia working together to stop the illegal trade in rhino horn and other wildlife products.