Rhino poaching, horn trade declining amid unchanged threat status
The rhino's survival remains in grave danger despite Covid-related drops in poaching and the illegal trade in their horns, The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said on Wednesday.
The conservation body said that poaching was still "an acute threat" to the survival of the species.
A total of 2,707 rhinos were poached in Africa between 2018 and 2021, according to the IUCN, the vast majority of which were killed in South Africa, mainly in the Kruger National Park.
South Africa is home to nearly 80% of the world's rhinos.
Rhino poaching rates in Africa have declined from a peak of 5.3% of the total population in 2015 to 2.3% in 2021, the Swiss-based organization said.
"The overall decline in poaching of rhinos is encouraging, yet this remains an acute threat to the survival of these iconic animals," said Sam Ferreira, scientific officer with the IUCN African Rhino Specialist Group.
He told AFP there was no formal analysis into why poaching rates were declining.
"A number of factors could lead to this slowing, including improved local cooperation in law enforcement, an international collaboration between range and consumer states, as well as changes in the demand for rhino horn," said Ferreira.
The IUCN said 2020 was an abnormal year, with lockdowns and restrictions due to the Covid pandemic seeing several African countries witnessing dramatically-reduced poaching rates.
South Africa lost 394 rhinos to poaching in 2020, while Kenya recorded no rhino poaching at all that year, it said.
However, as Covid-19 travel restrictions were lifted, some countries reported new increases in poaching activities: 451 rhinos were poached in South Africa and six in Kenya.
"These numbers are still significantly lower than during the peak in 2015 when South Africa alone lost 1,175 rhinos to poaching," IUCN said.
The rhino population in Africa has fallen by 1.6% annually, from 23,562 in 2018 to 22,137 at the end of last year.
IUCN said the number of white rhinos -- which it classifies as vulnerable on its Red List of Threatened Species -- declined by almost 12% from 18,067 to 15,942 during this period.
However, the number of black rhinos -- deemed critically endangered -- rose by 12% to 6,195.
"It is essential to continue active population management and anti-poaching activities for all subspecies across different range states," the IUCN said.
Data also suggests that, on average, between 575 and 923 rhino horns entered illegal trade markets each year between 2018 and 2020, compared to approximately 2,378 per year between 2016 and 2017.
However, in 2019, before the pandemic, the reported seized weight of illegal rhino specimens reached its highest point of the decade, possibly due to increased regulations and law enforcement efforts.