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South Africa stabilizes rhino poaching as threat spreads across the region

21 January 2016

CAPE TOWN, 21st January 2016 – South Africa today announced its first decrease in rhino poaching since 2007, but this slight improvement was offset by an alarming increase in the number of rhinos still being killed and also the significant increase seen across neighbouring countries.

South Africa’s Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, revealed that 1,175 rhinos were lost in South Africa in 2015 – slightly down from the record 1,215 in the previous year.

However, at least 130 rhinos were poached in Namibia and Zimbabwe during the same period – up almost 200 percent from 2014.

Heather Sohl, WWF-UK’s Chief Advisor on Species comments, "The slight decrease in rhinos poached is somewhat of a relief compared to recent years when we've seen nothing but increases, however, no poaching is acceptable.  In the 17 years preceding the sudden escalation in 2008 fewer than 36 rhinos used to be killed by poachers in South Africa each year, so it's still totally absurd that today there is this high level of poaching.  Wildlife crime is a serious crime and needs to be treated as such.  WWF will continue to work with partners across the globe to reduce the poaching, the trafficking and the demand for illegal wildlife products like rhino horn."

While poachers are still focusing primarily on South Africa, official figures from Namibia and Zimbabwe suggest that criminal networks are expanding their reach across the region – targeting rhinos in previously secure areas.

In Namibia, 80 rhinos were lost to poachers in 2015 – up from 25 in 2014 and just four in 2013. In Zimbabwe, 50 animals were killed – more than double the previous year’s total.

These three countries are home to nearly 95 per cent of all remaining African rhinos.

“We desperately need co-ordinated international efforts by police and other law enforcement agencies to combat the organised criminal syndicates trafficking rhino horn across southern Africa and beyond,” said Jo Shaw, Rhino Programme Manager for WWF-South Africa. “Major transit and consumer countries, such as Mozambique and Viet Nam, need to take urgent law enforcement steps to stop the trafficking and buying of illicit wildlife products.” 

Last week, the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Standing Committee ruled that Mozambique and Viet Nam should report on a range of activities targeted at stopping rhino crimes by 30 June 2016, including improved prosecutions and the use of specialized investigation techniques to expose those organizing the illegal trafficking.

The poaching figures were released a day after the South African High Court dismissed the government’s application to appeal an earlier ruling lifting a moratorium on the domestic sale of rhino horns.

“Reopening South Africa’s national rhino horn trade would go against CITES which urges all Parties to adopt and implement comprehensive legislation and enforcement controls, including internal trade restrictions and penalties, aimed at reducing illegal trade in rhino horn,” said Carlos Drews, WWF Director, Global Species Programme. “It would also make it even harder for already overstretched law enforcement agents to tackle rhino horn trafficking.”

WWF emphasises that stopping rhino poaching is not just a law enforcement response, but also requires the involvement of local communities around protected areas.

“The infiltration of these communities by sophisticated criminal gangs not only threatens rhinos, it also compromises the safety and sustainable development of the people living in these communities,” said Shaw.

“Local communities can help tackle wildlife crime, but only if they see themselves as active partners in conservation with a real stake in protecting wildlife, not just as pawns in a fight between law enforcement officers and international criminal syndicates.”

For download:
Photos: http://bit.ly/23gzcfn
For further information:
Lianne Mason | WWF-UK Press Office Executive | lmason@wwf.org.uk | (+44) 7415230338 |

About WWF
WWF is one of the world's largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with over 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the Earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.

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