The South African National Parks’ (SANParks’) reported decrease in rhino poaching has come under criticism from insiders, who say the released figures are nothing but “smoke and mirrors” meant to hide corruption within the entity.
SANParks on Tuesday released their much-anticipated annual report, which includes a breakdown of figures regarding rhino poaching.
The presentation states that 303 rhinos were poached, “a significant reduction” of 21.6%.
SANParks’ target for 2019-2020 statistics was that no more than 500 animals be poached. The latest statistics indicate, SANParks said, to being 197 animals under the target.
The first six months of 2020 saw an almost 53% reduction in rhino poaching, with 166 rhinos killed for their horns from January to June last year. In the first six months of 2019, this figure was at 316.
Not unlike previous reports, however, the rhino poaching statistics have been criticised for their accuracy.
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A source who wished to remain anonymous told The Citizen that the statistics were nothing more than “throwing smoke and mirrors for the ordinary guy to say things seem to be better than we thought”.
The source alleged that corruption within SANParks was rife, which impacts negatively on anti-poaching measures.
The source said that there was a stark lack of expertise within the Kruger National Park (KNP), and that SANParks was teetering on the edge of functioning “like any other state-owned entity”.
In addition, the source highlighted that had SANParks still not reported on collateral damage, questioning how the data from pregnant rhinos and calves that were lost due to poaching incidents was recorded, and how these numbers could potentially push rhino poaching statistics up.
It is alleged that SANParks do not record these deaths as part of the statistics, and calves that are eaten by predators after their mothers are poached are labelled “natural deaths”.
Senior research fellow with the Global Risk Governance Programme at the University of Cape Town, Dr Annette Hübschle, confirmed that SANParks did not record rhino embryos as part of their poaching statistics.
The recent drop in poaching as a percentage, according to the anonymous source, “is completely useless”.
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The source attributed current statistics, although sceptically, to lockdown measures, especially when South Africa underwent lockdown levels 5, 4, and 3.
Hübschle also attributed the decrease in statistics to lockdown, saying that this severely restricted the movement of both poachers and the transportation of horns and other parts around the world.
She explained that a few years ago, it was easier to say there were successes in curbing poaching, but now due to population numbers diminishing, a rhino population census must be done to take the statistics into context.
“It’s great to see a decline, but we need to measure this against the population numbers. We see 21.6%, but compared to what?”
However, this data is secret, and will not be disclosed by SANParks or the Department of Environmental Affairs, Forestry and Fisheries.
“Most people do not realise that the other major reason why poaching is dropping is because there are no rhinos anymore. The rhino population in the Kruger has dropped by more than 50%.
“It’s not as much of a drop as it should be.
“SANParks has become an employment company, not a conservation organisation. They want to employ as many people to give them jobs as possible, it doesn’t matter if people are doing their jobs.”
Anti-poaching rangers have their work cut out for them, with many parks stretching over hundreds of thousands of hectares.
The source conceded that there were many people within SANParks trying to do their best, and that it was “exceedingly difficult” to do anti-poaching work, but that despite SANParks’ presentation, “everything is not hunky dory”.
Hübschle said it would be interesting to see the impact on international and local wildlife markets once the pandemic subsides and trade resumes.
Due to various issues, the Department of Environmental Affairs, Forestry and Fisheries was unable to respond to The Citizen’s questions, and will do so next when it releases its annual rhino poaching report.
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