Photographer: Aaron Tam/AFP via Getty Images

South Africa Rhino Poaching War Curbs Decade of Rising Death

  • Department of Environment says 1,175 rhinos killed in 2015
  • Relocation program that saw 124 animals moved will continue

South Africa has gained ground in the war against poaching, with the number of poached rhinos declining in 2015 following a surge in their slaughter over the past decade.

About 1,175 rhinos were killed for their horns in South Africa last year, including 826 in the country’s biggest game reserve Kruger National Park, which is home to the largest population, Environment Minister Edna Molewa told reporters in the capital, Pretoria, on Thursday. About 1,215 of the animals were killed by poachers in 2014.

For the first time in a decade, the rate of poaching has been stabilized thanks to more aggressive enforcement, even though the scourge remains rampant, she said. The number of deaths has surged since 2007, when only about a dozen were killed.

There were 317 poachers arrested in 2015, up from 258 in the previous year. "It is clear that were it not for these interventions, the situation would be far worse and many more rhino would be lost," Molewa said.

Rhino horn demand has climbed in Asian nations, including China and Vietnam, because of a belief that they can cure diseases such as cancer and even ease a hangover. The price of the horns is as much as $95,000 per kilogram in Asia, more valuable than gold.

Rhino poaching in South Africa has grown steadily from 2010-2014, outpacing the rise in arrests.
Rhino poaching in South Africa has grown steadily from 2010-2014, outpacing the rise in arrests.
Source: SANParks

Enforcement officials are now examining the scene of every rhino killing and monitoring airports for smuggling, while border officials are being given the investigative skills to combat the crime, Molewa said. A program that relocated 124 rhinos from Kruger to more tightly protected areas last year will continue in March, she said.

Steady Population

Staff members move rhinos from the Kruger National Park yesterday to curb rhino poaching.
Staff members move rhinos from the Kruger National Park yesterday to curb rhino poaching.
Photographer: Foto24/Getty Images

A survey by SANParks, which runs Kruger, estimated 8,400 to 9,300 white rhinos lived in the park as of last year, indicating a stable population. Private owners of the animals have seen an increase in numbers since the mid-1980s, from 800 white rhinos to about 5,000, representing a quarter of the global population, according to a government study.

Molewa said she will appeal a court decision allowing the trade of rhino horns within the country. The North Gauteng High court this week affirmed an earlier ruling that lifted a domestic ban on the trade of horn, rejecting a government appeal.

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