Good news out of South Africa (home to a very large rhinoceros population) - poaching numbers seem to be decreasing and poaching related arrests are increasing.
2016 saw 1,054 rhinos poached for the horns, a drop from the 1,174 rhinos taken in South Africa in 2015. At the same time, there were approximately 680 arrests that came as a direct result of park ranger intervention, up from about 315 such arrests in 2015.
The demand for rhinoceros horn does not appear to have let up over the past few years, but poachers are finding their jobs much harder to do as South Africa’s federal government has gone on a park ranger hiring spree. An increase in the number of patrols does look like it’s having the desired effect as evidenced by the doubling of the year over year arrest numbers.
Unfortunately, shootouts are becoming more common between poachers and rangers as the area where the rhinos roam is very sparsely populated. Since these poachers are usually heavily armed, they seem to be making the disturbing decision to try to fight their way out of an arrest rather than surrender to the authorities.
Rangers patrolling Kaziranga National Park in northeast India have taken a slightly different approach when it comes to poaching - shoot on sight. It’s a controversial move that has received both praise and condemnation from numerous individuals and groups. For 2016, 20 poachers were killed in the park, which is more than the number of rhinos taken by poachers. Few people argue with the raw numbers (Kaziranga is much closer to the end-market for almost all rhino horns than South Africa) but the threat of a bullet seems to decreasing poaching activity compared to much of Africa.
Hopefully, conservationists in areas inhabited by rhinos can help get the number taken in South Africa down below 1,000 for 2017. While increased ranger activity is helping, the main problem seems to be those who believe that rhino horns have medicinal properties to begin with (they don’t). Take away the market and poaching will dry up overnight, but it will take a concentrated educational campaign to convince users of rhino horn to give up the practice.