Rhino poaching down a third during lockdown
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Johannesburg - The number of rhinos killed in South Africa last year dropped by 33 percent, official figures showed Monday, partly helped by the coronavirus national lockdown which severely limited movement by poachers.
But the gains were marginally reversed when movement restrictions were loosened.
At least 394 rhinos were slaughtered in 2020, down from the 594 recorded the previous year, Environment Minister Barbara Creecy said in a statement.
Most of the rhinos - 245 - were killed in the Kruger National Park, a tourist magnet bordering Mozambique.
"During the Covid hard lockdown period we had a significant reduction in poacher incursions into the Kruger," said Creecy.
"However, that changed later in the year as the lockdown levels eased and a significant spike in poaching was experienced towards the end (of) 2020, especially during December."
South Africa, which is home to nearly 80 percent of the world’s rhinos, has seen its poaching numbers steadily decrease for the sixth straight year.
But poachers, fuelled by a market for rhino horns in Asia, where they are used in traditional medicine or as a claimed aphrodisiac, have continued to mount an onslaught on the species.
Creecy said the decline in deaths should be celebrated as "a moderate win" but anti-poaching campaigns should not be relaxed, given the demand for horns.
Conservationists and opposition politicians say the latest figures ignore an overall decline in the rhinoceros population.
"For a number of years, there have been questions about what exactly is the population size of white and black rhinos," said Julian Rademeyer, director for East and Southern Africa at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime.
"Ultimately, if there are fewer rhinos, they become a lot harder to find for poachers."
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said it had recorded an "almost 70 percent" decline in rhino numbers in the Kruger National Park over the last decade as a result of drought and poaching.
A report released last month by the national parks agency found there were only 3 549 white rhinos and 268 black rhinos left in the Kruger.
The Democratic Alliance said the figures "paint a grim picture on the future survival" of rhinos in South Africa.