The strict limits on travel, including international travel, imposed in March last year had the happy side effect of keeping poachers at bay. In 2020, 394 rhinos were poached, 30 percent fewer than the year before and the lowest yearly tally since 2011.
But then South Africa began easing international travel restrictions in November.
“Since November, December last year and into 2021, this landscape and particularly Kruger National Park has been experiencing serious numbers of rhino poaching incidents,” this is according to Jo Shaw, the Africa Rhino Lead for WWF International Network. She declined to say how many incidents had occurred.
“There is a very real and realized threat as poaching pressure has increased since lockdown perhaps to meet the demand from the international markets,” she said.
Rhino poaching often involves both local poachers and international criminal syndicates that smuggle the high-value commodity across borders, often to Asia where demand is high.
Their methods are cruel: The rhinos are usually shot with a tranquilizer gun before the horn is hacked off, resulting in the animal being left to bleed to death.
Reserves, which have been battling tighter budgets amid a coronavirus-induced lull in tourism, have also been forced to cut back on anti-poaching patrols, compounding the threat to rhinos.
Some reserves use dehorning as one of the methods to prevent armed poachers from taking advantage of easier cross-border travel.
Veterinarians cut the horn at the stub, rather than removing it all, which prevents the rhino from bleeding to death. Balule Nature Reserve, located in the greater Kruger system has de-horned 100 rhinos since April 2019.
The country’s environmental ministry is expected to release its 2021 half-year poaching figures at the end of June.