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Thursday
Jan212016

South Africa reports small decrease in rhino poaching, but Africa-wide 2015 the worst on record

Poaching totals in South Africa 2007-2015Johannesburg, South Africa, 21st January 2016—South Africa today announced the official number of rhinos illegally killed in the country during 2015. The figure of 1,175 represents a slight drop on the 1,215 record total in 2014, but overall rhino poaching figures for Africa total a record high for the continent.

“While a slight decrease in rhino poaching in South Africa was apparent in 2015, and perhaps the authorities are having some impact on the ground, these numbers are hardly cause for celebration or complacency,” said Sabri Zain, TRAFFIC’s Director of Policy. “The figures remain unacceptably high and continent-wide the scale of the rhino poaching crisis is spreading.”

The 2015 decrease in South Africa has been more than offset by significant increases in neighbouring Zimbabwe, where rhino poaching rose from 12 in 2014 to a widely reported total of “at least 50” last year, while losses in Namibia also rose sharply from 24 in 2014 to 80 in 2015.

According to TRAFFIC data, Africa-wide rhino poaching totals reached 1,299 animals in 2014. The latest figure from South Africa means the continent-wide total in 2015 was at least 1,305.

“For Africa as a whole, this is the worst year in decades for rhino poaching,” said Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC’s Rhino Expert. “The poaching epicentre has spread to neighbouring Namibia and Zimbabwe, but is nowhere near being extinguished in South Africa: despite some commendable efforts being made, we’re still a very long way from seeing the light at the end of this very dark tunnel.”

Of the four major rhino range States, only Kenya is expected to report a significant fall in rhino poaching in 2015.

Last week, a number of rhino conservation measures were agreed during the 66th Standing Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

All countries affected by rhino poaching were directed to implement key strategies and actions developed by the CITES Rhinoceros Enforcement Task Force with specific instructions issued to: Mozambique to implement its National Ivory and Rhino Action Plan, including adoption of its strengthened conservation legislation and regulations; to South Africa and Mozambique urgently to finalize their joint action plan on rhino poaching; to South Africa and Viet Nam to enhance their collaboration on criminal investigations.

Viet Nam, as a key destination for rhino horn, was instructed to implement their improved penal reforms effectively and to take action to reduce the demand for rhino horn in domestic markets.

“The world is watching especially those destination countries whose demand drives the trade—Viet Nam and China. There is an urgent need to implement the full provisions of the measures agreed by CITES Parties and to close those cross-border markets in Viet Nam that service Chinese consumers,” said Milliken. “Failure to do so means the future outlook for Africa’s rhinos remains very bleak.”

In another significant development in South Africa, yesterday, the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria dismissed the South African Government’s application for leave to appeal a ruling to lift the domestic ban on rhino horn trade.

In February 2009, the Government imposed a ban on domestic trade in rhino horn, which was overturned in November last year following action by two rhino game ranchers. The Government reacted swiftly to appeal the decision, but yesterday, that appeal was rejected.

Yesterday’s ruling paves the way for domestic trading of rhino horn, although there is no consumer demand for rhino horn within South Africa and TRAFFIC is concerned the decision will potentially re-open a channel for illegal trade from Africa to Asia. TRAFFIC has previously drawn attention to evidence of undeclared rhino horns from private sector sources in South Africa moving into illicit trade and to discrepancies in South Africa's monitoring of rhino horn possession in the private sector.

“The latest High Court ruling adds another level of complexity to an already highly complex situation with South Africa’s rhinos the big losers if things go wrong,” said Milliken.

In September, South Africa is hosting the 17th Conference of the Parties to CITES where rhino conservation is bound to be one of the high profile issues under discussion.

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