WORLD Wild Fund for Nature SA (WWF-SA) CEO Morné du Plessis said on Friday the conservation organisation was concerned that the escalation in rhino poaching — from 13 in 2007 13 to 668 in 2012 — "threatens to undo years of successful conservation effort".
Poachers seeking rhino horn to sell in East Asia, where it fetches an estimated $60,000/kg, have already killed at least five rhinos this year. Last year’s figure is a massive increase on 2011’s 448. Experts believe rhinos could be extinct in the wild by 2050 if poaching continues to escalate at a similar rate.
South Africa still has a positive rhino population growth, and conservation efforts in the 1960s brought the white rhino back from almost certain extinction after it was all but eradicated by hunting by the turn of the 20th century.
Dr du Plessis said that "2013 will prove critical in South African rhino conservation efforts".
"Despite serious losses, 2012 saw some positive developments, such as the signing of a memorandum of understanding between South Africa and Vietnam, and the conviction of international wildlife trafficking kingpin Chumlong Lemtongthai. We must now remain committed to building on these achievements to reclaim the territory lost to the criminals."
On Thursday the Department of Environmental Affairs released the latest rhino poaching statistics, showing that 668 were killed by poachers in 2012, while 267 people were arrested in connection with rhino poaching and rhino horn smuggling.
Department spokeswoman Roopa Singh said rhino issue manager Mavuso Msimang’s report on how South Africa could best deal with the escalation in rhino poaching had found no single solution would fix the problem.
The department would apply "a range of strategies on several fronts" to curb poaching. This included legislation, including revised norms and standards for the marketing of rhino horn and for rhino hunting, and the memorandum of understanding with Vietnam.
WWF-SA rhino issue manager Jo Shaw said while the signing of the memorandum of understanding was commendable, "we now need to see a joint rhino plan of action being implemented, leading to more of these rhino horn seizures. There is also an urgent need to work closely with countries which are transit routes for illicit rhino horn, specifically Mozambique."
The Kruger National Park has always been the epicentre of rhino poaching, and three of the five killed in 2013 were poached there. The park lost 425 rhinos to poachers in 2012. It has a long border with Mozambique.
Ms Singh said Mr Msimang’s report, the product of year-long consultations, was presented to Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa late in 2012. She then asked for further work to be done, and a final report had been handed to the department and would be presented to Ms Molewa "in due course".