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South Africa, Zimbabwe epicenter of rhino poaching crisis, data show

Asian demand for horns is driving a surge in rhino poaching, especially in South Africa and Zimbabwe, according to data analyzed by TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

“The trade is made worse by increasingly sophisticated poachers, who now are using veterinary drugs, poison, cross bows and high caliber weapons to kill rhinos,” says a statement released today by the two conservation organizations.


Rhinoceros in South Africa.

NGS stock photo by Chris Johns

IUCN’s Rhino Specialist Groups and TRAFFIC were mandated to produce the report by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Since 2006 95 percent of the poaching in Africa has occurred in Zimbabwe and South Africa, according to the report.

“These two nations collectively form the epicenter of an unrelenting poaching crisis in southern Africa,” said Tom Milliken of TRAFFIC, in a statement released by WWF. TRAFFIC is a joint program of IUCN and WWF.


A black rhinoceros cow (Diceros bicornis) and her calf, in Itala, South Africa.

NGS stock photo by Chris Johns

The report, which was submitted to CITES ahead of its 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP15) in March, documents a decline in law enforcement effectiveness and an increase in poaching intensity in Africa.

“The situation is most serious in Zimbabwe where rhino numbers are now declining and the conviction rate for rhino crimes in Zimbabwe is only three percent. Despite the introduction of a number of new measures, poaching and illicit horn trade in South Africa has also increased,” today’s statement said.


A game warden guards one of perhaps 30 black rhinos left in Zimbabwe’s Matusadona National Park from poachers–in 1997.

NGS stock photo by Chris Johns 


A male white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) in a summer wallow, Hluhluwe-Umfolozi, South Africa. This park saved the white rhinoceros from extinction; numbers were as low as 40 worldwide in the early 1960s.

NGS stock photo by Chris Johns

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“Concerted action at the highest level is needed to stop this global crisis of rampant rhino poaching,” said Amanda Nickson, director of the Species Programme at WWF International. “We call on the countries of concern to come to COP 15 in March with specific actions they have undertaken to show their commitment to stopping this poaching and protecting rhinos in the wild.”

The report also raises concerns regarding the low and declining numbers as well as the uncertain status of some of the Sumatran and Javan rhino populations in Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam.

“Sumatran and Javan rhino range countries need to increase efforts to better assess the current status of many of their rhino populations–to enhance field law enforcement efforts–prevent further encroachment and land transformation in rhino areas–and improve biological management of remaining rhinos to ensure the few remaining Sumatran and Javan Rhino numbers increase,” said Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, chair of the IUCN/SSC Asian Rhino Specialist Group


The use of rhino as a medicine threatens the survival of the species.

NGS stock photo by Steve Raymer

Most rhino horns leaving southern Africa are destined for medicinal markets in southeast and east Asia, especially Vietnam, and also China, according to the report.

The report highlights Vietnam as a country of particular concern, noting that Vietnamese nationals operating in South Africa have recently been identified in rhino crime investigations. In addition, concern has been expressed about the status of Vietnam’s single Javan rhino population.


Close view of a white rhinoceros, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

NGS stock photo by James P. Blair

In some areas populations of rhinos are increasing, the report notes.

“Where there is political will, dedicated conservation programs and good law enforcement, rhino numbers have increased in both Africa and Asia,” said Richard Emslie, scientific officer of IUCN’s African Rhino Specialist Group.


Rhinoceros in Kenya.

NGS stock photo by Michael Nichols

Read the full report >>

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  1. Joe Mamma
    New York, NY
    April 19, 2011, 12:35 pm

    this is so cool! well not really. rhinos are scary! but i like learned like alot like just from this like article and like yeah! but okay like thanks! laters! 😀