WATCH | Baby rhino births a reason to celebrate as black rhino makes it back from the brink

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  • Thirteen rhino calves have been born as part of a programme to rescue black rhino.
  • There are 270 black rhino kept in special locations.
  • Poaching has declined to its lowest level in five years.

While it's too early to say that rhino are out of the extinction woods, there is reason to celebrate as efforts to rescue the species continue in South Africa.

On Tuesday – World Rhino Day – the World Wide Fund for Nature in South Africa (WWF) announced the birth of no less than 13 calves at various facilities across SA.

The Black Rhino Range Expansion Project was a collaborative effort to protect rhino and move them to safer habitats.

"This is why WWF entered into partnership with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife nearly two decades ago," said WWF project leader Dr Jacques Flamand.

READ | Big drop in rhino poaching as SA govt tackles syndicates

There were 13 partner sites housing 270 black rhino and the locations had to be kept under wraps given the risk of poaching.

Poachers arrested

According to the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, 594 rhino were lost in 2019, down from 769 in 2018, and well off the high of 1 215 poached in 2014, according the then environmental affairs department.

Reacting to the results in February this year, Minister Barbara Creecy said: "A decline in poaching for five consecutive years is a reflection of the diligent work of the men and women who put their lives on the line daily to combat rhino poaching, often coming into direct contact with ruthless poachers."

In 2019, 178 poachers were arrested in the Kruger Park alone, while nationally, the number arrested for poaching and trafficking was 332.

Thirty-eight people were sentenced to more than 11 years behind bars in 2019 and a number of high profile cases were still pending.

As a result of a multitude of efforts, including regional co-operation, the population of black rhino had increased to 5 500 from 2 500, 25 years ago, said the WWF.

"We decided to increase the range of black rhino in order to increase its growth rate and numbers of the critically endangered species. It started slowly and it has taken a lot of hard work and commitment from a lot of partners. Now we are starting to see the results that we hoped for," said Flamand.

But the organisation struggled with a sharp vacancy rate which had an impact on its ability to beat back poachers, according to its annual report.

"The moratorium on the filling of vacant posts has resulted in a 30% vacancy rate which is impacting on the entity's operations. This is hardest felt in our protected areas as our decreasing law enforcement troops struggle to fight the scourge of rhino poaching on the ground," wrote chair, Dr William Mngoma.

Despite the challenges, data from Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife showed that black rhino populations were increasing, though more so on private or communal land, rather than on state land.

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