Save the Rhino


27 February 2017: The South African Ministry for Environmental Affairs has today released rhino poaching statistics for 2016, showing a country-wide decline of 10.3% year-on-year, but increased incidence in areas outside Kruger National Park – pointing to a worrying rise in country-wide poaching gangs. Alarmingly, these groups are likely to benefit from the proposed legislation of a domestic horn trade.

According to official statistics released on 27 February 2017, a total of 1,054 rhino were poached in 2016, compared to 1 175 in the same period for 2015; representing a decline of 10.3%. Although 2016’s overall country-wide decline in rhino poaching is cheering, the rise in regions outside Kruger continues to be cause for great concern, as these developments suggest that poaching networks are increasingly expanding their operations across the country and growing in sophistication.

KS While fall in numbers poached last year is to be welcomed, it has been accompanied by a shift away from Kruger, where protection has improved, towards KwaZulu-Natal and the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park. There has also been a rise in poaching in Namibia and Zimbabwe.

When I visited Hluhluwe-Imfolozi in September 2016, the head of rhino security, Cedric Coetzee, told me that they were experiencing a worrying rise in poaching. Incursions by poachers had risen from two a week to two a day in the previous 18 months. On 27 December 2016 Musa Mntambo, a spokesperson for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, which runs the Park, said that 159 rhino had been killed in the province during the year compared with 97 in 2015. Hluhluwe-Imfolozi had borne the brunt of the increase.and

And any minor advance in South Africa is being offset by increased rhino poaching. In Zimbabwe and Namibia, which also hold significant proportions of the 20,378 white rhino and 5,250 black rhino remaining in Africa, according to Save the Rhino and to the South African conservationist John Hanks. The numbers poached in Namibia have risen in recent years, reaching 80 in 2015 having been down at 25 the year before; 2016’s death toll has not been released. Zimbabwe lost 50 rhinos in 2015, double the previous year’s level..

Save the Rhino and others have welcomed the overall fall in SA, but are concerned about and opposed to the South African government’s draft legislation which would allow a domestic trade in South Africa. Under the new law, a foreign citizen visiting South Africa could be able get a permit to export a maximum of two rhinos per year (or their horns), meaning the South African authorities would be required to police both a legal and illegal trade.  This has huge potential for laundering poached horns and for a new form of what was once called pseudo-hunting, when non-hunters from Vietnam and Thailand paid to shoot rhinos and export the “legal” trophy. This was hidden rhino horn smuggling.  The proposed legislation seems to have few safeguards and while some private rhino owners have welcomed the move, it does not really address the question of creating a regulated, legal trade in horn from dehorned rhinos plus rhino stocks held legally and horn from natural mortality.


South Africa’s government and police now have a reputation for corruption at the highest levels of the ruling party, ministries  and state institutions, so at the moment the legalisation of the a poorly-monitored legal trade does not amount to a regulated, well-thought out out means of destroying the monopoly of the smugglers, or of using a regulated trade in non-lethal horn to undercut the illegal trade and reduce poaching significantly..