Image: Dion Hinchcliffe/Flickr
Thirteen years ago, nine rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa. Last year, the death toll hit a new record high of 1004, newly released stats from South Africa’s Department of Environment Affairs show. That blows away the previous record, set in 2012, of 668. New poaching records have been set every year since 2008.
So far this year, there have been at least 37 rhinos poached in South Africa, which has the largest remaining population of rhinoceroses in the world. All but three of those were killed in Kruger National Park, consistently the center of rhino poaching in the nation. If there’s any small glimmer of hope in that hopefully jaw-dropping statistic, it’s that it is a very slightly slower rate of carnage than last year.
Accompanying the rise in poaching is a record number of poachers being arrested. Last year, 343 poachers were picked up by the authorities. Already this year six rhino killers have been taken into custody.
South Africa remains the epicenter of the rhino crises. Roughly 93 percent of the remaining 17,000 white rhinos (currently listed as being near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature) live in South Africa. A similar percentage of the world’s remaining 4400-plus critically endangered black rhinos in the world also live in South Africa.
All told, there are roughly 20,000 rhinos remaining in the nation, meaning, as the Guardian points out, that if the rate of rhino poaching continues unchecked, these animals have less than two decades left before being driven regionally extinct.
Wildlife monitoring organization Traffic reports that neighboring Mozambique is used both as a transit hub for rhino horn—for some time now worth more than gold or cocaine, $90,000 or more per kilo—as well as a base for poachers. From Africa, the horns are trafficked to Vietnam and China, something with increasingly happens with the aid of international criminal syndicates, with money being funneled to rebel groups and violent extremist organizations.
Though South Africa has signed memoranda of understanding with Mozambique, Vietnam, and China (as well as with lesser players Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Hong Kong) to combat the illegal trade in rhino horn, translating these professions will into action is key.
Naomi Doak, coordinator of Traffic’s efforts in Vietnam, said, “We are still waiting to see the rhetoric result in significant arrests and prosecutions of those orchestrating the rhino horn trafficking. We also urgently need to see a reduction in demand for horn, the introduction of a system for tracing hunting trophies, and strong sentences imposed of those convicted of rhino horn trafficking.”