Eight rhinos were found dead and stripped of their horns in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, officials announced on January 11, 2011.
The highest one-day rhino death toll on record comes at the heels of official government statistics revealing 448 rhinos were poached in 2011. This included 19 critically endangered black rhinos.
Despite increased law enforcement efforts, rhino poaching accelerated in South Africa last year. In 2010, 333 South African rhinos were killed by poachers, nearly three times the number killed in 2009.
More than half of South Africa’s rhino deaths occurred in world-famous Kruger National Park.
South African law enforcement officials made 232 poaching-related arrests in 2011, compared to 165 the previous year. Sentences imposed for rhino crimes have also increased in recent years, with poachers and horn smugglers receiving as many as 16 years in prison.
The recent upsurge in rhino poaching has been tied to increased demand for rhino horn in Asia, particularly Vietnam, where it carries prestige as a luxury item and a purported cancer cure.
“Rhino poaching is being conducted by sophisticated international criminal syndicates that smuggle horns to Asia,” said Dr Morné du Plessis, CEO of WWF-South Africa. “It’s not enough to bust the little guy; investigators need to shut down the kingpins organizing these criminal operations. Governments in Africa and Asia must work together across borders to stop the illegal trade.”
In both Africa and Asia, WWF and TRAFFIC are providing assistance to rangers, criminal investigators, prosecutors, and customs authorities. Additionally, TRAFFIC has facilitated visits between South African and Vietnamese government officials to discuss deepening cooperation on law enforcement. A bilateral treaty to ramp up law enforcement collaboration between South Africa and Vietnam was negotiated in September 2011 but still remains unsigned. TRAFFIC and WWF facilitated the International Rhino Trafficking Workshop in South Africa last September for the Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking (CAWT) that was established by the United States Department of State. The actions arising from the workshop are being pursued urgently.
Because it is home to most of the world’s rhinos, South Africa has been the epicentre of poaching. However, rhinos in other African and Asian range countries are also being targeted by poachers. In October, WWF announced the extinction of rhinos in Vietnam. The last Javan rhinoceros in the country was killed by poachers and its horn removed. In Nepal, however, strong conservation and law enforcement efforts ensured that no rhinos were lost to poaching in 2011.