Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

RHINO poaching at the Kruger National Park has declined slightly since the start of this year.

Nicholus Funda, the park’s head ranger, says on average they are losing two rhinos a day, but compared with other years this is an improvement.

Funda projects that Kruger — which is slightly smaller then the size of Israel — will lose less than 800 rhinos by the end of this year. In 2015 the park lost 827 rhinos to poachers, and 826 in 2014.

Funda says that on any given day there are 10 incursions into Kruger by poachers, and two result in rhinos being killed. The rest are prevented by rangers.

"That gap between two and 10, that is our effort," Funda says.

The last census of Kruger’s rhino population, in 2015, showed the park was reaching a stage where the mortality rate was almost equal to the birth rate.

Funda says once the number of rhinos killed exceeds the birth rate, the park will need to look at other methods, such as removing rhinos’ horns.

He says the park is waiting for the latest figures to see whether the mortality rate is higher than the birth rate.

Poachers seem to have a quota, Funda says, which he estimates at 1,200 rhinos.

He says even if the numbers killed at Kruger decline, poachers will get the rhino they need elsewhere, either from private game reserves or in neighbouring countries’ national parks.

SA needs a national anti-poaching unit to assist private rhino owners who are struggling to fight poaching as they lack the resources they need.

He says once the problem has been dealt with properly in SA, it can be looked at regional level.