• Maja van Loggerenberg

Clearly Poachers Have Also Decided to Stay at Home

It is actually quite comical that people feel the need to keep lions and tigers in cages, considering that humans are probably the most destructive organisms out there. As our population increases, Earth’s biodiversity decreases at an alarming rate. The actions of humans have directly resulted in many organisms becoming extinct or critically endangered, one of these animals being the rhinoceros. An important question few have asked is, has the Coronavirus’s lockdown strategies been a blessing in disguise for these animals?

The rhinoceros has been on the critically endangered list for longer than anyone can remember. These beautiful animals are poached for their horns, leading to more than 1 000 rhinos being killed in South Africa each year, according to the former Environment Minister of South Africa, Edna Molewa. Unfortunately, rhino poaching is a very lucrative business, a kilogram, of horn selling for more than $60 000. This is more expensive than gold or even cocaine. Considering that they are made out of the same substances found in human hair, it seems mind blowing that people are willing to pay such exorbitant prices.

The world is going through a very tough time due to the Coronavirus and no one would say that 2020 has been an especially good year for the world at large. However, this pandemic might have been the best thing that could have ever happened to the rhino. Due to its nationwide lockdown, South Africa has seen a significant decline in rhino poaching. In April of this year 14 rhinos were poached nationwide. According to the current Environment Minister of South Africa, Barbara Creecy, “This is the fewest number of rhino-poaches in a single month since September 2013.”

In the Kruger National Park alone, only five rhinos were killed in April 2020 compared to 46 in April 2019. This sharp decrease came right after the Kruger Park announced that for the first time in five years, at the end of 2019, rhino births equalled natural and poaching deaths, meaning that rhino populations could potentially be on the rise. This is great news considering that there are roughly only 30 000 rhinos left in the wild, according to Emma Pereira, communications manager at Save the Rhino International.

The decline in poaching can be attributed to the closing of all South African boarders, especially the open boarder between Mozambique and South Africa inside the Kruger National Park, which has proven to be a significant rhino-horn trafficking route. The boarders closing resulted in smugglers being unable to export the horns to places like Vietnam, where horns are in high demand for medicinal practices. SANParks closing their entrance gates for tourists has also played a role in the poaching decline, as poachers are unable to use drive-in and drop-off tactics they had previously utilised.

Remarkably, the Covid-19 lockdown did not hinder any form of poaching prevention. Minister Creecy applauded rangers, as between January and April of 2020, 33 poachers were arrested, and 20 heavy calibre firearms were confiscated. Following an intelligence-driven operation, police arrested a couple who were in possession of 6 rhino horns in May of 2020.

The knowledge that something good has come out of the lockdown adds some positivity to an otherwise tragic time. However, it is sad to think that these animals’ safety is dependent on a pandemic. The question remains whether rhino poaching will be back in full swing after things go back to normal, and the sad truth is that it probably will.

Rangers and anti-poaching schemes have done an excellent job during the last few years and rhino populations are starting to become less vulnerable. However, these animals will remain on the critically endangered list until there is no market for their horns. Hopefully, the rhinos enjoyed their few months of safety, because as life begins to return to normal, so will poaching.

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