SOME 2 400 rhinos have reportedly been poached across Africa since 2006, slowing the population growth of both African rhino species to some of the lowest levels since 1995.
Report by Wisdom Mudzungairi
Wildlife experts say rhino poaching increased by 43% between 2011-2012, representing a loss of almost 3% of the population in 2012, this according to IUCN’s Species Survival Commission (SSC)’s African Rhino Specialist Group.
Some 745 rhinos were poached throughout Africa — the highest number in two decades — with a record 668 rhinos killed in Zimbabwe’s neighbour South Africa alone last year alone.
Sadly, in the last five months indications are that one rhino has been lost to poaching every 11 hours since January 2013 — a rate that is higher than the average for 2012.
Illegal trade in rhino horn is co-ordinated by well-organised criminal syndicates which transport the horns primarily to Vietnam and China. Mozambique has also been identified as a key driver of poaching activities, with poachers making cross-border raids into Kruger National Park, home to the world’s largest rhino population. Mozambique is also a major transit point for illegal horn to Asia.
What is worse is experts predict that if poaching continues to increase at this rate, rhino populations could start to decline in less than two years’ time. Zimbabwe has had its fair share of poaching.
Killings have been recorded in Gonarezhou — the country’s largest black rhino sanctuary — Midlands Conservancy, Bubiana, Zambezi Valley and Save Valley Conservancy. Clearly, well-organised and well-funded crime syndicates are continuing to feed the growing black market with rhino horn.
Over the past few years, consumer use of rhino horn has shifted from traditional Asian medicine practices to new uses, such as to convey status especially in Asia. High levels of consumption — especially the escalating demand in Vietnam — threaten to soon reverse the considerable conservation gains achieved over the last two decades.
The platform is set already, and for Zimbabwe, the appointment of Edson Chidziya as Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks)
director-general could not have come at the right time given his untainted record in conservation and biodiversity expertise.
Chidziya is passionate about wildlife conservation, but he is also aware of the challenges that he’s facing — the Save Valley Conservancy debacle, the failure by Zimparks to generate income through its vast wildlife resource base; lack of co-ordination in the wildlife conservation and biodiversity industry. Most of their shenanigans are well documented, perhaps some even aid poaching syndicates, while foreign partners funding some of its programmes withdrew funding.
A lot is at stake for Chidziya, and I am aware he does not want to become a failure at Zimparks after spending 23 years in its corridors of power.
Everybody agrees that some of the decisions Chidziya will make may be challenging to implement. Zimparks chair George Pangeti told me the other day that there was real hope in Chidziya, now that he has been given “a blank cheque” to lead the organisation.
With all the hope and support that he’s been given, one hopes that elephants and rhinos will become even more sustainable and their conservation status subsequently improved.
According to the IUCN, there are currently 5 055 black rhinoceros and 20 405 white rhinoceros in Africa. Although these numbers have increased slightly over the last two years, there should be no room for complacency.
There have been arrests, yes, but government should pressure those key consumer and transit states — such as Vietnam, China and Mozambique — to urgently address the crisis by strengthening and enforcing regional and international trade laws, particularly in relation to rhino horn.
South Africa recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Vietnam to address the rhino poaching epidemic as well as other conservation issues, and so since Zimbabwe’s Gonarezhou borders Kruger National Park which has proved to be very porous, it is important for us to tighten security to protect game which is facing extinction in our face.
More needs to be reinforced with tangible government action by Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique. International and regional collaboration also needs to be strengthened, as does sharing of information, intelligence and expertise to address wildlife crime issues.
We were encouraged when a historic vote to strengthen measures to reduce poaching and illegal trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn was recently taken at the 16th meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok, Thailand.
The conference identified significant range, transit and consumer states most affected by illegal rhino horn trade as well as a process of reporting back on specific urgent actions to be taken by those countries. Will our jumbos, rhinos hold out for much longer?