Two of three sub-species of rhinos in South Africa currently have a negative growth rate, a paper published by the South African National Parks Scientific Services reveals.
“Of the African rhinos, the southern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum simum) is the most abundant, with its total numbers exceeding that of a minimum viable population,” Dr Sam Ferreira wrote in his paper The Status of Rhinoceroses in South African National Parks.
“In contrast, the African black rhino sub-species experienced severe declines, with the eastern black rhino (Diceros bicornis michaeli) and southwestern black rhino (Diceros bicornis occidentalis) listed as critically endangered and the south-central black rhino (Diceros bicornis minor) listed as vulnerable.”
The northern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) was functionally extinct, while the western black rhino (Diceros bicornis longipes) recently became extinct.
“Asian rhinos (greater onehorned rhino or Rhinoceros unicornis), Javan rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus) and Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) all survive only in small numbers, with less than 100 in the wild [each] of the Sumatran and Javan rhinos. There were 3 557 greater one-horned rhino by the end of 2015,” Ferreira said.
The paper was submitted in 2016, and published in October 2017, in Koedoe, a peer-reviewed, open access journal.
Given the department of environmental affairs’ apparent reluctance to keep the public updated, outdated numbers are all there is to go on. Ferreira warned the Kruger National Park last year the numbers for the 2017 rhino census were not going to be hopeful.
“The predictions about drought-lag effects will realise in the 2017 census. Those things about birth rates changing for the two different species – the census will confirm those.”
But as the research into all SA national parks reveals, it’s not just the drought which was problematic.
The sustained pressure of poaching is also depressing growth rates in the two subspecies.
“For south-central black rhinos and southern white rhinos, however, contemporary trends predict that SANParks will not be able to meet contributions to South Africa’s rhino population targets if observed annual population growth rates remain the same,” said Ferreira.
Protection in small parks should continue to be implement ed as it has borne results. In the 18 months preceding the end of 2015, only one rhino was poached in the small parks, he added.
“The number of confirmed rhinos poached in Kruger National Park was one less during 2015 (826) compared to 2014 (827).”
Yet, despite marked successes, the police have more than halved the number of members fighting poaching, listed as a priority crime, according to a parliamentary response to a question asked by the DA’s Ross Purdon.
In 2014, there were 63 police officials fighting rhino poaching, which climbed to a high of 1 249 in 2016 then dropped to 602 in 2017.
The Special Task Force, which has unique capabilities, was also withdrawn after having 144 members in the field from 2014 to the end of 2016.
The other major change was the deployment of Dog Unit members, with 180 involved since 2015.
A spokesperson said they would respond next week regarding changes to the department’s strategic plans to mitigate loss of rhinos.