rhino poaching

Photo: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images

If we want to save the Rhino, we should start by saving the poor. SANParks Scientist

The key to successfully battling rhino poaching may depend on aiding poor communities living around South Africa’s national parks, a SANParks scientist told Parliament on Tuesday.

rhino poaching

Photo: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images

Creating economic opportunities for these people could disrupt organised crime, said Dr Sam Ferreira, large mammal ecologist for SANParks.

“Our compulsory and biological interventions are holding the fort inside our national parks. But we need to clean the parks from the outside too,” he told the portfolio committee on environmental affairs.

Ferreira told News24 after his presentation that those driving organised crime were targeting people around the parks. Many of them were displaced due to the implementation of the Group Areas Act during apartheid and had suffered financially as a result.

Finding ways for them to flourish economically could make them less likely to be coerced into, or voluntarily work with illegal poaching networks.

These communities bore the brunt of poaching, he said.

Decline in poaching

Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa told the committee there had been an encouraging decline in poaching incidents over the last year-and-a-half, despite the increase in poaching attempts.

Rhino poaching decreased to 1 175 incidents in 2015, down 1.65% compared to 2014. This equated to 20 fewer carcasses found and was the first decline since 2007.

Ferreira praised rangers in the country’s national parks for their work in clamping down on poaching.

He, however, said that maintaining current security efforts inside parks was not sustainable in the long run. Rhino could still face extinction by 2050 if poaching-to-breeding rates did not drop by 11%.

The key was disrupting organised crime, he said.

South Africa is home to 36% of the world’s black rhino, and 88% of the world’s white rhino.

SANParks is responsible for roughly half of the rhino population in South Africa. While private owners and communities account for the rest.