Some good news for conservationists and animal lovers. For the first time in a decade, South Africa has announced an observable decline in the illegal poaching of rhinoceros. The count of rhinos slaughtered for their horns in the country in 2015 tallied at 1,715, a decrease by 40 from the previous year.
In an announcement last week, South African Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa addressed the significance of the news in light of the government’s fight against rhino poaching. Molewa attributed the downtrend to a marked increase in the arrests of poachers, action taken in The Intensive Protective Zone in Kruger National Park, the use of technology to combat poaching, and intensified South African border management.
“This is very good news, and offers great cause for optimism,” commented Molewa. “What is particularly good about this news, is that whilst poaching numbers often rise drastically over December, this time, the much-feared year-end spike was averted.”
Even with this modest victory, rhino poaching is on the rise on the African continent and around the world. As South Africa has increased their anti-poaching efforts, hunters have turned their sights on neighboring Zimbabwe and Namibia, where poaching more than tripled in the past year.
“Despite some commendable efforts being made, we’re still a very long way from seeing the light at the end of this very dark tunnel,” says Tom Milliken, a rhino expert for the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC. “For Africa as a whole, this is the worst year in decades for rhino poaching.”
Rhinoceros horns are valued at $65,000 per kilogram—higher than gold or cocaine. Vietnam, a central destination for rhino horn trade, has also been instructed to take action to reduce demand for the ivory in domestic markets.
South Africa is home to about 80% of the world’s rhino population, making it crucial to tackle the criminal act of rhino poaching through both government policies as well as the efforts of local communities.
In September, Johannesburg is host to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. The conservation of the global rhino population will, no doubt, be one of the prime issues under discussion.