WWF's Rhino Conservation work

South Africa’s rhino poaching statistics have risen in the last year, but there are some encouraging signs that rhino conservation work is reaping rewards, says Dr Jacques Flamand, the head of WWF’s Black Rhino Range Expansion Project.

According to Flamand, the country’s population of black and white rhino is still growing despite the ongoing threat of poaching. The annual growth of the overall rhino population is about 7%. Currently just over 2% of the rhino population is removed through legal hunting and illegal poaching. Flamand says that, with increased efforts being put into anti-poaching work, it is possible to see even more gains in rhino conservation work.

South African law enforcement officials made 232 poaching-related arrests in 2011, compared to 165 the previous year. Sentences imposed for rhino crimes have also increased in recent years, with poachers and horn smugglers receiving prison sentences as long as 16 years.

“Rhino poaching is being conducted by sophisticated international criminal syndicates that smuggle horns to Asia,” said Dr Morné du Plessis, CEO of WWF-South Africa. “It's not enough to bust the little guy; investigators need to shut down the kingpins organising these criminal operations. Governments in Africa and Asia must work together across borders to stop the illegal trade.”

The recent upsurge in rhino poaching has been tied to increased demand for rhino horn in Asia, particularly Vietnam, where it carries prestige as a luxury item, as a post-partying cleanser, and also as a purported cancer cure.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine experts, rhino horn has no proven cancer treating properties. Contrary to popular myth, it has never been used in traditional medicine as an aphrodisiac.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has found that consumer demand in Vietnam is driving much of the rhino poaching. CITES has also ruled that Vietnam needs to show progress in curtailing illegal trade in rhino parts and derivatives.

South Africa lost 448 rhinos to poaching in 2011, official government statistics reveal. The total includes 19 critically endangered black rhinos, of which fewer than 5,000 remain in the wild in Africa. In 2010, 333 South African rhinos were killed by poachers, nearly three times the number killed in 2009.

How can you help?

• Raise funds or donate money. Unfortunately, rhino conservation is expensive and ongoing. Poaching is a constant reality in spite of the massive efforts on the ground by the heroes who defend our rhinos. Please help us help our rhinos.

• Report anything suspicious to your local conservation authority.

• Visit game reserves. Share your love for rhinos with people who don’t yet understand their plight.

What does WWF do to help rhinos?

WWF works with government and the National Prosecuting Authority to improve forensic investigation of rhino crime scenes and improve the knowledge and skills of the people who prosecute rhino crimes. With TRAFFIC, WWF engages the Vietnamese and Chinese governments to address Asian demand for illegal rhino horn. We strengthen capacity-building through training of wildlife conservationists at the South African Wildlife College. We fund security equipment and training of rangers at key rhino populations.

Beyond security it is also essential to encourage rapid growth of rhino populations. This is being done through WWF’s Black Rhino Range Expansion Project which creates significant new black rhino populations. So far six founder populations of black rhino have been released on to new sites. Nearly 100 black rhino have been translocated, and more than 30 calves have been born on project sites.

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