Mokonyane’s rhino poaching numbers don’t add up (part 1)

Date: 18 Feb 2019

Environmental groups and researchers have raised serious questions about official conservation data.
Environmental Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane recently released the 2018 rhino poaching statistics. The numbers are not adding up and South Africa’s state-owned rhino population may be worse off than Mokonyane would have us believe.

A recent study put the number of black and white rhino combined in Kruger National Park (KNP) at an estimated 5,649, which falls far short of the 2020 target of 538 to 676 south-central and 169 south-western black rhino, and 9,854 to 10,232 southern white rhino.

According to a source in conservation who requested privacy to protect against backlash, two surveys were undertaken in 2018 after rangers said surveyed rhino numbers did not correspond to what they had observed on the ground.

Attempts to obtain current population numbers from South African National Parks (SANParks) and department of environmental affairs (DEA) spokesperson Albi Modise of the Kruger National Park (KNP) proved fruitless.

Mokonyane said in her statement – there was no press briefing – that between January 1 and December 31 there were 2,620 incursions into the park, with 125 contacts, but only 769 rhino were poached, making it the third consecutive decrease recorded, “particularly in the national parks”.

Outraged South African Citizens Against Rhino Poaching (Oscap) said they would be thrilled with these stats, if they could believe them, according to Oscap director Kim Da Ribeira.

“We note census figures for KNP for 2018 were not included in the release, and our understanding is that the population of white rhino in KNP is currently below 3,000 individuals.”

Da Ribeira noted 178 firearms were confiscated for 2018 in KNP and surrounding areas.

“If firearms recovered reflect to a degree the number of contacts with poachers, then why over the last quarter of the year was a similar decline in poaching numbers not recorded? We question the accuracy of this figure as incursions were reported to have increased from those recorded in 2017,” Da Ribeira said.

However, despite the poachers’ alleged inability to capitalise on their efforts, Mokonyane announced “initiatives to dehorn rhinos embedded in strategic approaches that target individuals that frequent poaching hot spots, but more importantly, approaches that minimise the losses of cows”.

In August, wildlife conservation organisation Wildlife ACT noted on its website that dehorning was “a last resort” and a “short-term solution, and the sad reality is that it only deflects the risk on to populations that have not been dehorned yet”.

According to the DEA, 7,694 rhino were killed nationally for their horns between 2010 and the end of 2018, while the KNP lost 4,484 rhino in the same time period.

The Species-specific drought impacts on black and white rhinoceroses study published in January has worrying numbers on KNP’s rhino population.

Due to the drought, and despite the effectiveness of anti-poaching, the study put the white rhino population estimate in September 2017 at 5,142, “significantly” lower than the 7,235 previously estimated for 2016.

On the plus side, the black rhino population estimate in September 2017 was 507, significantly higher than the 310 estimated in 2014.

All of which adds up to the previously mentioned combined total of 5,649 rhino in Kruger.

The study also noted SANParks had removed 1,402 southern white rhino from the Kruger since 1990 and, between 2015 and 2016, another 217 from “focal areas” north of the Sabie River.

It’s different from the “official” DEA numbers repeated by Mokonyane, who noted the export of 566 rhino from South Africa since 2014 had been “recommended”, with a further 58 in 2018.

There’s been no feedback on any of the 624 translocated rhino, which technically remain the property of the state, and by extension are the property of all South Africans, let alone the 1,619 moved between 1990 and 2016.

Knowing these numbers is critical in light of the disastrous transfer of six critically endangered black rhino to Chad’s Zakhouma National Park in September, which ended with four dead.

The report on their deaths is still outstanding, despite repeated requests from The Citizen to the entity responsible for their survival, African Peace Parks, which in January was still finalising the report.  Cont 2/. . .

By Amanda Watson -  amandaw@citizen.co.za

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