South Africa’s rhino deaths from poaching reach 24 in December | Animals

Poachers killed 24 rhinos in South Africa in the first two weeks of December after a lull in killings during the pandemic.

South Africa’s Environment Department said on Tuesday that carcasses had been found in four provinces across the country so far this month, with seven rhinos found dead in Kruger National Park, six in KwaZulu-Natal and seven in the Mpumalanga. Four, including a pregnant woman, were shot dead by poachers at a wildlife reserve in the Western Cape last week while a fifth is being treated for gunshot wounds.

Nine people have been arrested in connection with the rhino killings, which were condemned by South Africa’s environment ministry after poaching declined during the pandemic.

In 2020, 394 rhinos were poached for their horn in South Africa, home to the majority of Africa’s population, up from 594 the year before, according to official figures. Almost two-thirds were killed in national parks. A record 1,215 were killed in 2014, up from just 13 in 2007, due to demand in Asia which made horn more valuable than gold.

“Poverty drives many people who are recruited as poachers to go to parks. If there are economic hardships, then it will obviously be exacerbated, ”said Richard Emslie, former scientific leader of the IUCN African Rhino Specialist Group. “One of the challenges is to economically empower the people living in these rural communities… and not just to think in terms of strict law enforcement and the fight against poaching in the parks.

Coronavirus lockdowns, travel restrictions and the Omicron variant have ravaged the country’s tourism industry, a major funding source for conservation, which accounted for around 4.5% of all jobs and 3% of GDP in South Africa. South before the pandemic.

While the rise in rhino killings is common ahead of Christmas and the Chinese New Year, experts have said arresting poachers will not break the cycle and more needs to be done to crack down on criminal gangs and demand for it. horns in Vietnam and China.

Former England cricket captain and leading rhino conservationist Kevin Pietersen said visiting some of the 3 million people living on the outskirts of Kruger National Park opened his eyes to the challenges many face.

“I started by absolutely loathing. But I educated myself, ”Pietersen, who recently hosted a National Geographic show on rhino conservation, told The Guardian.

“These are people who just want to feed their families. There is human greed, which is in all of us. But there is a lot of desperation that unfortunately lives alongside these national parks. And when you are desperate and I know as a parent that you will do anything for your children, to feed your children, ”he said. “You win this war by taking care of the people. This is what they are doing in India.

Cathy Dean, CEO of Save the Rhino International, which is also part of the African Rhino subgroup of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, said the collapse in ecotourism income was likely linked to the massacres .

“[The pandemic] was a disaster. Obviously, the lack of tourism income has completely destroyed the parks and reserves. It completely destroyed the income, ”she said. “We don’t employ staff directly, but many operations have had to lay off staff. “

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