Rhino conservation gets record-breaking R232m boost

The South African fight against rhino poaching has received a huge boost with the injection of R232-million from the Dutch and Swedish postcode lotteries. The money is being handled by the Peace Parks Foundation, which works in southern Africa to create transfrontier conservation and parks.

The largest example of these is the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, which was created by linking parks in South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Its creation led to the taking down of the fence between that used to separate the countries, a move which has been blamed for the easy movement of poachers.

In the media release, the foundation said the majority of this funding would be spent "on enhancing the existing efforts to protect rhino in South Africa". The country has 83% of the world's remaining rhino, as most other populations across the world have been poached into extinction. 

The focus of the project will be in lowering the value of live horn, with an emphasis on intelligence gathering and applying technology, including the use of drones. Incentives and rewards would also be given to rangers, communities and members of the public who helped prevent poaching.

The measures are there to supplement those being undertaken by SANParks and the Mozambique government in the transfrontier park. South Africa's second largest concentration of rhino, in KwaZulu-Natal, will also receive large parts of the funding.

The donation comes at a time when the rise in rhino poaching figures are reaching a point where deaths exceed births, and the white and black species are becoming critically endangered.

Edna Molewa, the minister of environmental affairs, said the funds would be a "catalyst to turn the tide on rhino poaching and wildlife crime".

In welcoming the funds, Molewa said, "This is the largest single contribution made by the private sector to combat rhino poaching and wildlife crime. We welcome this public-private partnership to help ensure the survival of the species." 

Last year 1 004 rhino were killed in South Africa. They year before the number was 668, with on average a 50% increase every year. The number in 2007 was 13. Molewa's department previously said that the tipping point would be reached in the next decade, but this was before the rate accelerated further at the end of last year – a pattern that always occurs thanks to longer summer nights and vegetation to hide poachers.

In response to the poaching, the government has deployed the army and started training rangers in anti-poaching combat operations. Last year, the national treasury set aside R75-million for two years to aid the effort, but this has been insufficient. Private groups have pumped millions into better equipment and training for rangers and to help conservation in the smaller, or private, game parks.

In January 2014 alone, 86 rhino were killed in the country, with 63 of these being in the Kruger National Park. This is traditionally where the heaviest concentration has been, thanks to its proximity with the Mozambique border.

In 2006, a kilogram of rhino horn went for R8 000 on the black market. Now it is anywhere up to R600 000. A report by consulting firm Dalberg said the global trade in horn could be as much as R100-billion a year, making it as valuable as cocaine. 

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Sipho Kings
Sipho is the Mail & Guardian's News Editor. He also does investigative environment journalism.

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