2013 could mark critical turning point for rhinos

Posted on 10 January 2013
The latest rhino poaching statistics released today by the Department of Environmental Affairs reveal that 668 rhinos were lost due to illegal killings in South Africa in 2012. This represents an alarming increase on the previous record of 448 animals killed for their horns in 2011.

“WWF South Africa is concerned and saddened by the continuing rise in rhino poaching, which threatens to undo years of successful conservation effort” said Dr Morné du Plessis, CEO of WWF-SA.

The Kruger National Park, adjacent to Mozambique along the Western boundary of the country, holds the majority of the country’s rhinos and is the mounting epicentre of illegal activity with 425 rhinos lost throughout the year, representing nearly two-thirds of all animals killed. Although South African rhino numbers are still growing, if not stopped, the ongoing escalation of deaths could soon send populations into decline.

“2013 will prove critical in South African rhino conservation efforts”, said du Plessis. “Despite serious losses, 2012 saw some positive developments, such as the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between South Africa and Vietnam and the conviction of international wildlife trafficking kingpin, Chumlong Lemtongthai. We must now remain committed to building on these achievements to reclaim the territory lost to the criminals.”

Rhinos are being killed for their horns, which are believed to have medicinal properties and seen as highly desirable status symbols in some Asian states, notably Vietnam. The increased value of rhino horn has enticed well-organised, well-financed and highly-mobile criminal groups to become involved in rhino poaching. Encouragingly, there has also been a welcome increase in recent arrests of alleged rhino horn traffickers. Two Vietnamese men were detained last weekend in separate incidents in Vietnam and Thailand for smuggling rhino horns, which were believed to have been exported from Mozambique.

“Whilst we commend South Africa and Vietnam for signing a Memorandum of Understanding regarding biodiversity conservation, we now need to see a joint Rhino Plan of Action being implemented, leading to more of these rhino horn seizures,” said Dr Jo Shaw, WWF-SA’s Rhino Co-ordinator. “There is also an urgent need to work closely with countries which are transit routes for illicit rhino horn, specifically Mozambique”, she added.

Recommended actions for Mozambique include making rhino poaching a criminal offence with significant penalties such as imprisonment, as well as undertaking law enforcement efforts to control illicit movement of rhino horns. South Africa needs to keep up the pressure on national and international agencies to make rhino poaching and illegal trading in rhino horn priority crimes. Vietnam must confirm its commitment to reducing demand for illicit rhino horn, which is fuelling the current poaching crisis.

“WWF South Africa is committed to tackling the poaching crisis throughout the supply chain, from supporting anti-poaching units protecting rhino on the ground right through to addressing the very reasons behind the demand for horn from Asia,” said Shaw. 
Rhinos are being killed for their horns, which are believed to have medicinal properties and seen as highly desirable status symbols in some Asian states.
© Martin Harvey / WWF-Canon Enlarge