Rhino poachers have set a new record in bloodshed in KwaZulu-Natal – the highest killing rate in more than a century.
With four months still to go‚ poaching gangs have slaughtered 166 rhinos in the first eight months of the year‚ making 2017 the bloodiest year on record in the province that saved this species from the brink of extinction just over a century ago.
By comparison‚ 162 rhinos were killed in 2016‚ 116 animals during 2015 and just 18 in 2008.
The current killing rate is now one rhino every 32 hours in KZN‚ compared to one every 75 hours in 2015 and one every 486 hours in 2008.
The latest statistics were confirmed on Monday by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlfe spokesman Musa Mntambo.
Responding to requests for more information on what the conservation agency was doing to arrest the alarming escalation of rhino poaching in KZN‚ Mntambo said: “Ezemvelo is working closely with the SAPS and other state security agencies to address the poaching threat‚ the vast majority of which is coming from Mpumalanga‚ Limpopo‚ and Gauteng.”
Asked for a breakdown of which reserves were worst hit‚ Mntambo said: “We no longer provide the breakdown per protected area.”
However‚ conservation sources have indicated that the vast majority of the killings were in the province’s flagship Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park.
The latest statistics at a national level have not been released by the Department of Environmental Affairs.
The last update was provided by Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa just over a month ago‚ when she confirmed that 529 rhinos had been killed countrywide in the first six months of this year.
Although poaching levels in the Kruger National Park had declined by just over 30% compared to the previous year‚ the steadily increasing death toll in KZN and other provinces suggests that nationwide killings will still exceed 1‚000 by year end – for the fifth year in a row.
Molewa said KwaZulu-Natal was implementing a new “intensive protection zone” strategy in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park and other provincial rhino reserves.
While she did not provide specific details on the new strategy for KZN‚ intensive protection zone strategies in Kenya‚ Zimbabwe and Kruger have focused on “fortress protection” measures where animals are guarded more intensively in a central zone compared to the periphery of parks.