This is a guest post by Allen Grane, research associate for the Council on Foreign Relations Africa Studies program.
Home to the world’s largest rhino population, South Africa saw 1,155 rhinos illegally killed in 2014. That is a 15 percent increase on 2013’s 1004 poached rhinos. More than 4.6 percent of an approximate total of 25,000 rhinos in Africa were killed this past year in South Africa alone.
According to one non-profit organization, Saving the Survivors, the true number of rhinos that die due to poaching may even be 30 percent higher, which would put the 2014 number at over 1,500. This increase would account for rhinos that were shot but did not have their horns removed and the calf’s of poached rhino cows, who likely die without their mothers (these animals are not included in poaching statistics). This figure does not include rhinos that were legally hunted.
Over the last seven years there has been an explosion of rhino poaching in South Africa. From 2000 to 2007, the yearly average of poached rhinos was twelve. By 2009, the number reached 122 and by 2012 the number had reached 663. In the past two years this figure has nearly doubled. At this rate many conservationists fear that African rhinos may soon go extinct.
This severe increase has been driven by international demand. Buyers in Vietnam and China are known to pay over $65,000 a kilogram for rhino horn. In order to meet this demand international crime syndicates have begun working on the ground in Africa. By using middlemen to pay and supply local hunters, these syndicates have encouraged impoverished locals in South Africa and Mozambique, who can easily cross the national border into South Africa, to poach South Africa’s rhinos.
In order to end this poaching epidemic the South African government may have to reevaluate its policies regarding conservation. When working with local communities the government should emphasize both the ecological and economic affects that rhinos have on South Africa. (Recent research conducted in Kruger National Park concluded that the rhino is a keystone species and tourism brings in roughly 8 percent of South Africa’s GDP; much of this is due to eco-tourism and benefits local communities.) By doing this, the government can increase the incentives for locals not to poach. When working with foreign governments, Mozambique in particular, the South African government needs to strive towards better border control, to include inter-agency patrols, to locate poachers and protect the rhinos.
While the rhino population in South Africa is on a downward spiral, there is hope. After the near extinction of the white rhino (which now accounts for nearly eighty percent of all African rhinos) in the early 20th century, South Africa’s is a testament to what conservation programs can do to save wildlife. By implementing the appropriate programs and policies the South African government can disrupt the poaching epidemic and save its rhino population.