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White Rhinos In Private Sanctuaries: South Africa's Shift Against Poaching

Published February 28, 2024
3 months ago

The stunning shift in South Africa's battle against rhino poaching has led to an unusual yet potent strategy: the privatization of rhino conservation. With more than two-thirds of the country's white rhino population now under private stewardship, concerns deepen about the efficacy of state conservation efforts, as poachers continue to devastate the herds, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN).

According to Pelham Jones, head of the Private Rhino Owners' Association (Proa), private reserves are now home to over 8,000 white rhinos – that's approximately 65% of the national count, up from 60% the previous year. Similarly unsettling is the growth of privately owned black rhinos, nearing 40% of their population.

This pivotal transition can be ascribed to the starkly declining populations on government properties. KZN, a once flourishing bastion for rhino protection, now symbolizes governmental negligence, with local wildlife authorities reportedly beleaguered by internal strife and incompetence, further exacerbating the crisis.

Data released by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment reveals a disheartening trend: 499 rhinos poached in 2023, an increase over the 448 poached in 2022. The majority of these attacks occurred on state land, with Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park supplanting the Kruger National Park as the epicenter of this relentless onslaught.

Local business forums in collusion with the so-called "procurement mafia" stand accused of exacerbating the situation through their tussles with conservation authorities over repair contracts for the park's dilapidated fences. Such disruptions have aided poachers, allowing for an abhorrent average of nearly one rhino poached per day in Hluhluwe last year.

Privately protected rhinos fared better in comparison, with losses of 93 animals — a number that is concerning but remains below 20% of the total poaching figures. This outcome suggests that despite the burdens of soaring security expenses, private conservation efforts are indeed outperforming their state-run counterparts.

The trajectory of South Africa's rhino population is starting to mirror broader trends within the country, where the failings of state-run initiatives, such as energy provision, have spurred private entities to take the helm. As Eskom's reliability wanes, solar panels have burgeoned across rooftops; similarly, the mantle for rhino conservation is gradually being passed to the private sector.

This privatization, however, does not come without its share of trepidations. As security costs surge and the demand for rhinos remains fragile, private owners could find themselves financially beleaguered. John Hume, once the custodian of a 2,000-strong rhino herd, stood testament to such pressures as he capitulated to the economic strains, selling his ranch and animals to NGO African Parks.

Proa has been vociferously advocating for the legalization and regulation of rhino horn trade — a move they believe could incentivize private owners to continue their valiant conservation efforts. By allowing controlled horn harvesting (which is sustainable when performed ethically), owners could derive revenue essential for securing their rhino populations. However, attempts to lift the global ban on horn trade have historically met with robust resistance at international conferences.

In the face of adversity, South Africa's white rhinos are inching towards a future where their fate lies chiefly in private hands. Whether this trend will quell or fuel the poaching epidemic remains a subject for keen observation and decisive action.

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