Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

There has been a slight decrease in the number of rhino poached nationally in the first half of this year, but more than 500 were still slaughtered, the government said on Monday.

This is according to the latest rhino poaching statistics released by the Department of Environmental Affairs.

Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said a total of 529 rhino have been poached since January 2017, compared with 542 in the same period for 2016, representing a decrease of 13 rhinos.

"With regards to the Kruger National Park, which as you know has traditionally borne the brunt of poaching, a total of 243 rhino carcasses were found between January and the end of June 2017. This is compared to 354 in the same period in 2016. This represents a decrease of 34%," Molewa said.

Edna Molewa. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Edna Molewa. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

Most of the world’s rhino live in SA, where they are heavily poached. The poaching has been driven by the demand for rhino horn, particularly in Asian countries, such as Vietnam. The horns are also used as an aphrodisiac and in traditional medicine, with suggestions that some in Vietnam believe they cure cancer. An international ban on trade in rhino horns has been in place since 1977.

Rhino poaching is a national priority crime‚ with conservation and protection involving the Department of Environmental Affairs and the South African National Parks‚ the Department of Defence, the South African Police Service and its Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation also known as the Hawks‚ the State Security Agency‚ the South African Revenue Service‚ the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development‚ as well as the provincial conservation authorities.

Molewa said the decline in the poaching numbers "does not mean we can proclaim victory".

"Nevertheless, the downward trend is being established, which is cause for cautious optimism. Whilst there has been a decrease in the number of rhino killed for their horns in the Kruger National Park and Mpumalanga, the number of rhino poached unfortunately increased in some other provinces," the minister said.

"It is with concern that we also report that in 2017, 30 elephants were poached in the Kruger National Park. The interventions being implemented to counter rhino poaching are also used to respond to this emerging threat. It is clear that more resources are required to address this challenge that we are experiencing in terms of both rhino and elephant poaching."

Molewa said given its size and the large number of rhino living in the Kruger National Park in particular, much of the law enforcement efforts remain directed there.

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