South Africa's wildlife parks fear a rebound in rhino poaching this year, despite incidents plunging 33% in 2020 – a near decade low.
Restrictions on international and local travel prevented the movement of poachers and their products last year, but the situation could get a lot worse again post-lockdown-- as WWF’s Jo Shaw explains.
"Perhaps even more so, the restriction of movement of people within the parks reduced the amount of information available to the organized networks looking for rhino horn and that's one of the reasons why poaching numbers were down. There is a very real and realized threat of poaching pressure, has increased since lockdown, perhaps to meet the demand for the international markets."
Shaw said that since the end of 2020 – when some travel restrictions were lifted – Kruger National park has experienced a serious number of rhino poaching incidents.
Reserves have been battling tighter budgets with many forced to cut back on anti-poaching patrols.
Poachers usually shoot rhinos with a tranquilizer gun before the horn is hacked off, resulting in the animal being left to bleed to death.
Balule Nature Reserve, located in the greater Kruger system and home to the "Big Five", has de-horned 100 rhinos since April 2019.
Sharon Haussmann is the reserve’s chairperson.
"In Balule, we have decided to dehorn our entire population because of our high level of threat. We have de-horned every rhino and even rhinos with calves, we would immobilize the calf together with the cow and even the calves horns will be ground down to a safe level."
The Ministry of Environment says there are about 16,000 rhinos in the country.
Rhino populations in the Kruger National Park have plummeted almost more than two thirds in the last decade, according to a South African National Parks report.