Home News The cost of saving South Africa’s rhino population

The cost of saving South Africa’s rhino population

Durban – The cost of keeping the world’s largest rhino population alive is not measured only in monetary value, but in time, effort and more importantly, risk.

With illegal poaching on the rise in South Africa in the past few years, fuelled by the black market trade in the keratin tusks in Asian countries, the country’s rhino population has been under major threat.

These poachers, armed and ready to shoot, kill a rhino before removing their horn.

South African authorities, volunteers and park rangers have resorted to removing their horns before they end up in the scope of an illegal poacher.

According to Isaac Phaahla of the Kruger National Park, it costs about R20 000 to remove a single horn from a rhino.

This cost includes the use of a helicopter, chemicals and manpower.

“We have to fly around for some time before we actually spot them. The Kruger National Park is a 2-million hectare piece of real estate, it takes some time before we spot a rhino,” Phaahla told IOL.

With about 3 000 rhinos within the 19 623 km² Kruger National Park, dehorning all of them would cost almost R60 million.

This cost does not go unjustified, as the park employs thousands and generates close to R2 billion annually. It is one of the top tourist destinations in the country.

For the most part, the team at SANparks have concentrated on female rhinos, as well as those who traverse land close to where people live.

Once the rhinos are found and tranquillised, they are blindfolded and their horns removed with a power saw.

“The horns are labelled, numbered and put into a vault,” Phaahla said.

Besides the rhinos living in the Kruger, there are about 1 000 rhinos in private game reserves around the park.

As at December 2021, there were about 26 100 rhinos alive in the world.

This figure includes all five species of rhino.

According to SANparks, 259 rhinos were poached for their horn in South Africa in the first six months of this year, most of them in state-owned parks.

The job of clamping down on poachers and, in turn, the rhino horn black market, belongs not only to South African authorities, but international ones as well.

South Africa’s Asian and American ties have helped in the arrest of 69 people in connection with rhino poaching and rhino horn trafficking from January to June this year. Thirteen of these alleged poachers were found in the Kruger National Park.

“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,” SANparks said.

It’s no easy task, however, and in May this year, Kruger National Park field ranger and dog handler Shando Mathebula, 36, died on duty.

Mathebula was patrolling in the Shangoni ranger section and was killed by a buffalo.