Rhino poaching surge
Cape Town - The rate at which rhino are being poached in South Africa is heading for a point where the number killed will exceed the number born, The World Wide Fund for Nature's (WWF) African rhino programme manager Joseph Okori warned on Monday.
Should the current surge in poaching continue, then "in two years we could start to expect a decline" in the population growth rate, he said.
There are about 19 000 white rhino and 1 470 black rhino in reserves and national parks around South Africa.
WWF has marked September 22 as "Rhino Day" in an effort to highlight a dramatic increase in rhino poaching in South Africa since 2008.
The environmental organisation is calling on concerned citizens to "dust off their vuvuzelas... and make as much noise as possible at 13:00, as a symbolic act to send a powerful message to leaders that the time to take serious and effective action against rhino poaching is now".
In a written reply to a parliamentary question on Monday, Environment Minister Buyelwa Sonjica said that 139 rhino - five black and 134 white rhino - had been poached on private land, provincial reserves and in the Kruger National Park between January 1 and July 16 this year.
Responding to a question by Democratic Alliance MP Gareth Morgan, the minister said she had no plans to institute an investigation into the reasons for the escalation in rhino poaching.
Wildlife crime reaction unit
However, current measures were not sufficient to curb poaching, and her department was setting up an interim national wildlife crime reaction unit.
"The unit will be co-ordinated from the department... and will investigate the illegal killing and smuggling of rhino horns," she said.
Okori said the criminal syndicates behind the poaching were well organised.
"They have helicopters and assault rifles, and are able to procure narcotics (to dart the rhinos). They must have very good connections within institutions that possess these drugs to be able to do so.
"There is also the question of how they manage to smuggle the horns out of the country so quickly, given all the border security put in place for the (Soccer) World Cup," he said.
According to the WWF website, the surge in poaching is "fuelled by demand for horn from the Asian market".
275 killed this year
Okori said the rate at which rhino were currently being poached meant about 275 animals would be killed this year.
"If the poaching surge continues, we will hit 1 450, which will be seven percent of the current rhino population in South Africa," he said.
At this point, the rate at which rhino were being killed would exceed the birth rate, Okori said.
More rhino have been killed in the first seven months of this year than were poached in the period 2000 to 2007.
In July, SA National Parks (SANParks) chief executive Dr David Mabunda said the country's rhino were in no danger of extinction because the poaching deaths were a small percentage of the rhino population.
"The rhinos lost through poaching throughout the country constitute approximately 0.6% of the estimated white rhino population... and approximately 0.3% of the... estimated black rhino population," he reportedly said at the time.