South Africa is facing its worst ever year for rhino poaching, with the government announcing that more rhinos have been poached in the first three months of this year than in the same period for the record-breaking year of 2014.
Edna Molewa, the environment minister, said that by the end of April 2015 poachers had killed 393 rhinos – 290 of them inside Kruger National Park.
By this time last year, the number of rhino lost to poachers was 331 for whole of the country and 212 for the Kruger National Park. During the whole of 2014, in South Africa alone, 1,215 rhinos were killed by poachers - one every eight hours.
The Kruger National Park, a massive area bordering Mozambique, is home to the majority of South Africa’s 20,700 rhinos. The latest figures were released at the first public briefing on rhino poaching the South African government has given in months.
“This is not deliberate – it is because of the heavy load of work that we have,” explained Ms Molewa. While she was upbeat giving her briefing – saying the measures are “bearing fruit” and criticising media for negative coverage – she admitted that the government’s strategy needs work.
“We are soldiering on, we do think that this fight will have to be won and we will win it,” she said. The animals are killed for their horn, used in traditional Asian medicine.
Since rhino poaching started skyrocketing in 2008, South African authorities have struggled to contain the carnage despite moving some animals out of poaching hotspots in the Kruger.
Even after appointing an ex-army general to oversee anti-poaching operations, the number of rhinos killed continues to increase as cash-strapped South Africans and Mozambicans join the lucrative trade in the horn. South African police commissioner Riah Phiyega reported that, as of the end of April, park rangers detained 132 suspected poachers, crediting the use of helicopters and anti-poaching dogs for the increase in arrests.
In South Africa, many people buy beaded “Rhino Force” bracelets and affix life-sized red plastic rhino horns to the bonnets of their cars in support the anti-rhino poaching cause. The government in February announced it would investigate whether the trade in rhino horn should be legalised and regulated to try to halt the poaching - Telegraph