Rhino poaching on the rise again in South Africa

Latest government figures from South Africa reveal an increase in rhino killing since 2020.

A rhino with large horn is emerging from behind a bush

(c) georgelogan.co.uk

In a press release on 27th February, South Africa’s Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment revealed that 499 white and black rhino had been killed by poachers across the country during 2023.

The poaching of rhino for their horns, which are worth a small fortune in black markets in parts of Asia, where they are powdered down and sold for use as traditional medicines and tonics, has been the scourge of rhino conservation efforts over recent decades. This is particularly true in South Africa, the continent’s main rhino population stronghold.

How many rhino have been killed in South Africa?

Poaching levels peaked in 2014, when more than 1,200 rhino were killed in South Africa. While the 2023 total remains well below that peak, the problem has never gone away, and there has been an alarming upward trend in poaching since 2020, alongside a shift in the poaching focus away from the Kruger National Park, whose rhino populations have been devastated in recent years, and towards KwaZulu-Natal province in the East of the country.

A graph of rhino poaching numbers by year

The press release details a number of successful arrests and convictions, with some poachers receiving 10-year prison sentences.

Responding to the news, Born Free’s Head of Policy Dr Mark Jones said: “Rhino poaching has been the major threat to fragile rhino populations in recent years as well as the cause of untold suffering to the targeted animals and orphaned rhino calves. Much time, effort and resource has gone towards tackling this scourge. In light of this, it is extremely worrying to see South Africa experiencing this rising trend in poaching incidents once again, principally in its National Parks.”

According to a report prepared for the 19th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), at the end of 2021 the African continent was home to an estimated 22,137 rhino, with roughly two thirds living in South Africa.

Dr Jones continued: “Together with recent reports of increased poaching in Botswana and Namibia, these figures clearly show that much more needs to be done to tackle the organised criminal outfits that coordinate the illegal horn trade, and to reduce demand for rhino horn in market countries. It is also surely time to end the cruel trophy hunting of rhinos in southern Africa – with ongoing declines in crucial rhino populations, all individual animals must be considered precious and of vital importance if we are to secure a viable future for these majestic animals.”

Born Free works at CITES and other international policy forums to increase protection for rhinos and other species against poaching and trafficking. We also work on the ground alongside the Kenya Wildlife Service to protect black and white rhinos in Meru National Park, which has helped to ensure poaching levels have remained extremely low throughout the current rhino poaching crisis.

You can help support Born Free’s work to protect rhinos, by adopting a rhino today.