The perilous 1,000-mile journey to save Africa’s endangered black rhinos
28 October 2022
The South African Government will implement integrated strategic management of rhinoceros in South Africa under the stewardship of the Minister of Environmental Affairs, Mrs Edna Molewa.
On 6 August 2014, Cabinet deliberated on discussed the 2013 rhino population census undertaken in the Kruger National Park and decided on integrated strategic interventions for the management of rhinoceros in South Africa.
The rhino population in South Africa was rescued from the brink of extinction in the early 1900s. At the time, the rhino population in the Kruger National Park was locally extinct. Since the start of the relocation of 351 rhino from the Hluhluwe-uMfolozi game reserve in KwaZulu-Natal to the Kruger National Park 50 years ago, the Kruger rhino population had increased to between 8 700 and 12 200 in 2010.
Translocation of 1 450 rhino from the Kruger National Park between 1997 and 2013 has contributed significantly to the growth of the South African rhino population. South Africa is home to 82% of Africa’s rhino, 93% of Africa’s white rhino and 39% of Africa’s black rhino. The reason that white rhino exist is because of this country’s exemplary conservation record.
As of 2012, South Africa’s rhino population was estimated at 21 000.
SANParks conducts periodic population surveys. During the latest survey in 2013, conducted by SANParks, the rhino population survey showed that between 8 400 and 9 600 white rhinos are presently living in Kruger National Park.
It is clear from regular surveys that rhinos are found in different densities across Kruger National Park. Poaching pressure is also uneven across the Park’s landscape. Some areas are relatively free of recorded poaching incidents while others are hard hit by poachers.
Poaching, natural deaths and the translocation of rhino from the Kruger National Park presently match that of rhino births. This means that the rhino population in the Kruger National Park has stabilised.
Integrated strategic management of rhino
We recognise that poaching is part of a multi-billion dollar worldwide illicit wildlife trade. Addressing the scourge is not simple. That is why we will continue to strengthen holistic and integrated interventions and explore new innovative options to ensure the long-term survival of the species.
It is in this context that Cabinet has decided that we implement these more vigorous integrated strategic management approach aimed at reducing the threat to rhinos and the biological management of the species. This includes strategic translocation, as we have always done.
The integrated interventions adopted by Cabinet are:
Compulsory interventions include pro-active anti-poaching initiatives, the implementation and improvement of actionable intelligence as well as the introduction of responsive legislation and policy amendments to address rhino poaching. Other interventions include continued efforts to increase rhino numbers through, for example, translocation to low risk areas, range- and population expansion.
New interventions include steps to disrupt crime syndicates. These will be implemented by our Security Cluster.
Long-term sustainable solutions, to ensure the future survival of this key species, include the creation of economic alternatives for communities taking into account the government’s sustainable utilisation policy.
International Collaboration and Cooperation
Interventions on international collaboration will further strengthen efforts to address not only rhino poaching, but illegal wildlife trade in general. It is internationally acknowledged that illegal wildlife trade results in devastating impacts on species, ecosystems, sustainable livelihoods, economies, and national and regional security.
Collaboration between range, transit and consumer States is therefore essential to address this challenge effectively. Several MOUs have already been concluded by the Department of Environmental Affairs. There is, however, a need to accelerate co-operation with key identified countries.
Bolstering Existing Interventions:
The government has realised that the work that we are doing requires continued adaptability to meet changing dynamics.
Actions associated with this include:
The protection of rhinos inside parks with intensive protection zones, and technology interventions, are being complimented with extensive emphasis on national, regional and international collaboration between law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system. Greater attention will be given to collating proactive intelligence from multi-agencies – nationally and ideally regionally and internationally.
In the Kruger National Park and other parks, these interventions are aimed at reducing the threat to rhinos through numerous strategies. These include the creation of an Intensive Protection Zone (IPZ) in the Kruger National Park. Here, several technologically advanced methods are being explored to help anti-poaching teams to intensively reinforce the protection of rhinos.
In other parts of the Kruger National Park, and in national parks and protected areas nationwide, cooperative and complementary traditional anti-poaching activities help curb poaching. Among the actions taken, has been the introduction of forensic technology, including DNA analysis, in the judicial process to support the successful prosecution of alleged wildlife criminals.
The number of alleged rhino poachers arrested since the beginning of 2014 has increased considerably compared to 2013. During the 2013/14 financial year, 70 cases were finalised against 140 accused nationwide, with a conviction rate of 61%.
The most successful prosecution to date has been that of Mandla Chauke who was handed an effective sentence of 77-years in prison by the Nelspruit Regional Court.
Managing Rhino Populations
The biological management of rhino is the key focus of the Integrated Strategic Management approach. This includes ecological management of rhino habitat, such as water distribution and fire regimes, that are fundamental to the ecological management of protected areas.
An additional action is the translocation of rhino from areas where rhinos are threatened (e.g. eastern boundary of Kruger National Park), as well as areas where environmental conditions and high rhino densities restrict breeding and increase mortalities.
Our previous experience has shown that biological management, which includes translocations, has resulted in the growth of rhino numbers in South Africa. The complimentary approach of strategic relocations from the Kruger National Park and the creation of rhino strongholds will allow the total rhino population size of South Africa to continue to grow.
Translocated rhinos contribute to the creation of alternative strongholds, which are areas where rhinos can be cost-effectively protected while applying conservation husbandry to maximise population growth.
South Africa is considering a range of rhino strongholds inclusive of South African national parks, provincial reserves, communal areas and private reserves. South Africa also recognises international opportunities for establishing rhino strongholds in neighbouring countries in Southern Africa.
This approach allows the offsetting of poaching in the short to medium term, while also expanding rhino range and improving overall population size.
There are several secondary benefits of establishing more rhino strongholds, including:
Another key priority is the creation of an enabling environment that fosters alternative economic choices for communities. Communities who are located next to protected areas bear the brunt of exploitation from where crime syndicates recruit potential poachers. Providing alternative incentives will encourage the recognition of all the values of rhino. In short, the aim is to make a live rhino more valuable to communities than a dead rhino.
Entering into Memoranda of Understanding with range states is key. The MoU with Mozambique recognises the need of strengthening community development on the Mozambican side as a key intervention.
Investigations into long-term sustainability solutions
Cabinet authorised the Department of Environmental Affairs in July 2013 to explore the feasibility of possible trade in rhino horn, or not. There is no final decision on this matter as Cabinet has established an Inter-Ministerial Committee and a Panel of Experts to consider all possibilities. Stakeholders are invited to register to participate in the process of the Panel of Experts.
The long term sustainable solutions are linked to the creation of alternative economic opportunities for communities bordering protected areas; creating incentives to promote / facilitate rhino ownership; and the consolidation of rhino population across different land-uses in South Africa including national, provincial, private and communal land.
South Africa, with its large rhino populations, has borne the brunt of rhino poaching. We remain confident that our efforts in implementing the integrated strategic approach will build on our successful track record of conserving rhino.
We anticipate that challenges will not remain static – thereby necessitating an adaptable rhino management response that changes in response to these challenges.
South Africa remains committed to the sustainable utilisation of its natural resources.
For further information contact:
Cell: +27 (0)83 490 2871
Issued by: Department of Environmental Affairs