Rhino poachers target private reserves as killings rise

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Three convictied rhino poachers have been handed hefty sentences in the Mogwase Regional Court.
Three convictied rhino poachers have been handed hefty sentences in the Mogwase Regional Court.
Conrad Bornman/Gallo Images/Rapport/File


The number of rhinos poached and killed in South Africa continues to rise.

Current projections show that rhino killings will rise for a second year.

In the first six months of this year, 259 rhinos were killed. That’s equivalent to 57% of the total for 2021.

READ: Poaching war | Police, courts record successes

“Recent trends in rhino poaching show a move away from the Kruger Park to private reserves and KwaZulu-Natal where the majority of rhinos have been killed this year. This makes it all the more important for the national government to shift its focus to support provincial authorities and private reserves in the war on rhino poaching,” said the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Barbara Creecy.

Breaking down the numbers

The number of rhinos poached between January and June is 10 more than the 249 poached countrywide in the first six months of 2021.

From January to the end of June, 82 rhinos were poached for their horns in the Kruger National Park.

The 2022 poaching statistics show a loss of 210 rhinos on state properties and 49 in privately owned parks.

KwaZulu-Natal recorded a loss of 133 rhinos. This is more than triple the 33 rhinos killed in the first six months of 2021.


The demand for rhino horns remains a constant threat to South Africa’s diminishing rhino populations as crime syndicates continue to operate within the borders.

READ: Rhino poacher sentenced to 53 years in jail

Between January and June, 69 people were arrested in connection with rhino poaching and rhino horn trafficking. Of these, 13 alleged poachers were arrested in the Kruger National Park.

Creecy said that four alleged rhino horn traffickers were arrested between January and June as a result of the ongoing work of integrated enforcement teams at OR Tambo International Airport. These suspects were arrested while trying to smuggle 56 pieces of rhino horns out of the country.

A statement explained: 

In one instance, cooperation between the Hawks, Malaysia and Qatar authorities led to the arrest of another alleged rhino horn trafficker and his haul of rhino horn pieces at Doha Airport in Qatar. This arrest demonstrates the success of country-to-country cooperation to combat wildlife trafficking at an international level.

Rhino horn discoveries

The Hawks are also working with the US Fish and Wildlife Service in an investigation arising from the discovery in June of a suspect parcel at FedEx that was destined for the USA, the forestry, fisheries and the environment department explained.

“The parcel contained eight kilograms of rhino horn pieces concealed as wooden art pieces.”

Several search-and-seizure operations took place countrywide, with the Hawks arresting one suspect and confiscating 29 rhino horns during an operation at storage and packing facilities in Bedfordview, where rhino horns are prepared and packed for the illegal markets in Southeast Asia.

READ: 24 rhino killed as new wave of poaching hits private reserves

In joint law-enforcement operations, two suspects were arrested in June when they were stopped by the Highway Patrol in Bedfordview and found to be in possession of two fresh rhino horns.

Two suspects, one an ex-Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Parks ranger, were arrested earlier this month after their vehicle was searched and two fresh rhino horns were seized. One of the accused had previously been arrested for possession of rhino horns in the Kruger National Park.

On April 23, an integrated operation was conducted to address money laundering and corruption linked to rhino horn trafficking activities within the Kruger National Park.

READ: Police, banks set to follow poachers’ illicit cash trail

Various search-and-seizure warrants were authorised and executed at multiple premises in and around the park with the aim of effectively dismantling the operations of some of the main targets. A multidimensional team, led by the Hawks, with the support of the Kruger National Park and Stock Theft and Endangered Species in Skukuza, was assembled and premises in Limpopo and Mpumalanga were searched during the operation.

Three suspects were arrested during the operation, which included two Kruger National Park field rangers. The arrests and the success of this operation had a significant impact on the rhino poaching activities within Kruger National Park and have sent out a strong message that corrupt and illegal activities will not be tolerated. One of the rangers was dismissed during the departmental hearing on July 21. The other ranger’s departmental hearing is ongoing, pending the outcome of the court process.

READ: Rhino poachers are back after SA eased the lockdown restrictions

In total, 51 cases in which 51 people were convicted have been finalised. The heaviest sentence handed down was 34 years’ imprisonment, while two Mpumalanga men were sentenced to 28 years behind bars for killing rhinos and being in possession of illegal firearms and ammunition.

“Following the murder of well-known anti-poaching field ranger Anton Mzimba earlier this week at his home in Timbavati, we are reminded of the threats that rangers face from poachers and their crime bosses daily. These are men and women who deserve our respect and support as we join hands to improve their safety,” said Creecy.

Members of the public can report any suspicious activities around wildlife to the environmental crime hotline on 0800 205 005 or the SAPS on 10111.

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