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Rhino poaching undermines rural communities

WWF reacts to the release of the 2017 poaching statistics.

The ongoing rhino poaching challenge is not only spreading to other species but also impacting on rural people living around protected areas through exposure to organised crime syndicates.

WWF South Africa raised this concern after the South African Department of Environmental Affairs announced that 1 028 rhino were illegally killed during 2017. The figure shows a small decline from the 1 054 recorded as poached during 2016, which in turn was a reduction from the record loss of 1 215 recorded in 2014.

The geographic shift in poaching across the country continued with greater emphasis on populations outside of Kruger National Park. Poaching syndicates on the ground are connected to cross-border wildlife trafficking networks and continue to redirect their efforts to where the risk is lower and the benefits greater.

Overall 2017 also appeared to show a shift to poaching impacts on other species with elephant losses in Kruger National Park reported to have increased to 67 in 2017 compared to 46 in 2016 - these are important trends to address now to be ahead of the curve and prevent the escalation seen previously for rhino. However, wildlife trafficking is not just about the impacts on rhinos, elephants or our protected areas. Exposure to unwanted criminal elements operating within poaching syndicates is unravelling the social fabric in communities and our responses need to also reflect and address this. 

Dr Jo Shaw, African Rhino Lead for WWF International, said: “Wildlife trafficking remains a pervasive threat to rhinos, and increasingly to other species such as elephants and lions which bring tourists and jobs to our important protected areas. These crimes also affect people living around our parks by exposing them to criminals connected to international trafficking syndicates.

“We need ongoing government collaboration between agencies, across borders and with private sector and civil society to stop the damage being done to wildlife and people. At the same time, we need to work to find a way to empower people living around protected areas to benefit legally from wildlife and become invested in their survival.”

Dr Margaret Kinnaird, WWF Wildlife Practice Leader, added: “News of the reduction in numbers of rhinos killed illegally in South Africa for the third consecutive year is encouraging. However, the numbers are still far too high. We must also shine a light on the ongoing struggles facing the people whose safety and livelihoods are threatened by this illicit trade. To address poaching and the destruction it causes to both humans and wildlife, we need to put more effort into stopping the corruption that facilitates the trade and change consumer behaviour particularly in Asia,  to stop the demand for illegal wildlife products such as rhino horn.”

Government action through 2017 has shown some successes through the Integrated Strategic Management Approach of Rhinoceros, working towards implementation of those recommendations made by the Committee of Inquiry into possible legalisation of rhino horn that seek to improve governance in order to benefit rhino conservation. Progress includes an increase in convictions for illegal activities relating to rhinos, especially higher up within the syndicates as well as support to involve communities in the legal wildlife economy.

However, neither the National Integrated Strategy to Combat Wildlife Trafficking (NISCWT) nor the Regulations on Domestic Trade in Rhino Horn has yet been adopted. In addition, greater ongoing co-operation is required between South Africa and key consumer countries in Asia to investigate and prosecute the illicit movement and consumption of rhino horn and other illegal wildlife products.

How WWF South Africa is working on rhino conservation:
  • Supporting and experimenting with community-based approaches to addressing wildlife trafficking;
  • Building relationships between key protected areas and people who live with or close to Africa's wildlife;
  • Providing equipment and scientific support for rhino protection and moving rhinos to safe spaces where their numbers can grow;
  • Supporting and training officials to detect and deter wildlife trafficking;
  • Increasing prosecutor’s awareness of wildlife trafficking and relevant legislation in Mozambique.

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