Rhino poaching across the world declined since 2018, which according to environmentalists and officials say is quite encouraging for Rhino population. However, the threat to Rhinos is not far from over, said a new report by the IUCN SSC African and Asian Rhino Specialist Groups and TRAFFIC.
The new report comes in the wake of the 19th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which will be held in Panama in November this year.
“The overall decline in poaching of rhinos is encouraging, yet this remains an acute threat to the survival of these iconic animals,” said Sam Ferreira, Scientific Officer with the IUCN SSC African Rhino Specialist Group. “To support the growth of rhino numbers, it is essential to continue active population management and anti-poaching activities for all subspecies across different range states.”
RHINO POACHING; AFRICA
In the report, the authors said that rhino poaching rates in Africa continued to decline from a peak of 5.3 per cent of the total population in 2015 to 2.3 percent in 2021. At least 2,707 rhinos were poached across Africa between 2018 and 2021, accounting for both the white rhino, which is Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and the rarer Critically Endangered black rhino. The report said that South Africa accounted for 90 per cent of all reported cases, predominantly affecting white rhinos in Kruger National Park, home to the world’s largest white rhino population. As a result, overall white rhino numbers on the continent declined by almost 12% (from 18,067 to 15,942 individuals) during this period, while populations of black rhino increased by just over 12% (from 5,495 to 6,195 individuals). Overall, Africa’s rhino population declined around 1.6% per year, from an estimated 23,562 individuals in 2018 to 22,137 at the end of 2021.
Lockdowns and restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic saw several African countries experience dramatically reduced poaching rates in 2020 compared to previous years. South Africa lost 394 rhinos to poaching in 2020, while Kenya recorded no rhino poaching that year. However, as COVID-19 travel restrictions lifted, some range states reported new increases in poaching activities. South Africa reported 451 and Kenya six poached rhinos in 2021. However, these numbers are still significantly lower than during the peak in 2015, when South Africa alone lost 1,175 rhinos to poaching.
Alongside the decline in poaching, data analysed for range and consumer states suggests that, on average, between 575 and 923 African rhino horns entered illegal trade markets each year between 2018 and 2020, compared to approximately 2,378 per year between 2016 and 2017. However, in 2019, before the COVID-19 outbreak, the reported seized weight of illegal rhino specimens reached its highest point of the decade, perhaps due to increased regulations and law enforcement efforts. While range and consumer countries most affected by illegal trade remained the same as in previous reports, the lack of consistent reporting by some countries still limits the ability to better understand patterns of illegal trade in rhino horns.
“Overall better reporting of seizure data will help us better quantify the extent of horns entering illegal trade for future reports. Although we cannot say with exact certainty what impact COVID-19 restrictions have had on rhino horn trade, 2020 did represent an abnormal year with low levels of reported illegal activity, law enforcement, and government reporting. The continued and consistent monitoring of illegal trade is vital,” said Sabri Zain, TRAFFIC Director of Policy.Zain continued to highlight the need for greater sharing of critical information such as DNA samples among countries affected by the illegal trade in rhino specimens.
The report also examined Asian rhino populations. It found that populations of Vulnerable greater one-horned rhinos (Rhinoceros unicornis) and Critically Endangered Javan rhinos (Rhinoceros sondaicus) have both increased since 2017, while the Critically Endangered Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) has suffered population declines of 13% per year. Thanks to conservation efforts including strengthened law enforcement, the number of greater one-horned rhinos in India and Nepal increased from an estimated 3,588 in 2018 to 4,014 at the end of 2021, while the total population of Javan rhinos increased from between 65 and 68 individuals in 2018 to 76 at the end of 2021. There were an estimated 34 to 47 Sumatran rhinos in 2021, compared with 40 to 78 individuals in 2018, as the small size and isolation of populations limit breeding in the wild.
RHINO POACHING; ASIA
The report finds that 11 rhino poaching incidents were recorded in Asia (ten in India and one in Nepal) since the beginning of 2018, all of which involved greater one-horned rhinos. Detection of carcasses in dense rainforests remains a challenge, and there were no reports of illegal killings of Sumatran rhinos despite the substantial population declines recorded. The report concludes that Asian rhino poaching declined between 2018 and 2022, continuing the trend since 2013.
According to WWF, Rhinos once roamed many places throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa and were known to early Europeans who depicted them in cave paintings. At the beginning of the 20th century, 500,000 rhinos roamed Africa and Asia. By 1970, rhino numbers dropped to 70,000, and today, around 27,000 rhinos remain in the wild. Very few rhinos survive outside national parks and reserves due to persistent poaching and habitat loss over many decades. Three species of rhino—black, Javan, and Sumatran—are critically endangered. Today, a small population of Javan rhinos is found in only one national park on the northern tip of the Indonesian island of Java. A mainland subspecies of the Javan rhino was declared extinct in Vietnam in 2011. Successful conservation efforts have led to an increase in the number of greater one-horned (or Indian) rhinos, from around 200 at the turn of the 20th century to around 3,700 today. The greater one-horned rhino is one of Asia’s biggest success stories, with their status improving from endangered to vulnerable following significant population increases. However, the species still remains under threat from poaching for its horn and from habitat loss and degradation. In Africa, southern white rhinos, once thought to be extinct, now thrive in protected sanctuaries and are classified as near threatened. But the western black rhino and northern white rhinos have recently become extinct in the wild. The only two remaining northern white rhino are kept under 24-hour guard in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Black rhinos have doubled in number over the past two decades from their low point of fewer than 2,500 individuals, but total numbers are still a fraction of the estimated 100,000 that existed in the early part of the 20th century.