Botswana loses a third of rhino to poaching in five years

GABORONE— Botswana revealed that rhino poaching increased dramatically in the five years leading up to 2021, resulting in the extinction of roughly one-third of the endangered species’ population.

In all, 138 rhinos were slaughtered between 2018 and last year, Tourism Minister Philda Kereng told parliament.

This compares to two rhinos poached in the preceding five years between 2012 and 2017, according to official figures.

Killings jumped to seven in 2018, then 30 the following year, according to statistics presented to parliament by Kereng. In 2020, the killings rose sharply again to 62, then halved to 33 in 2021 before dropping to six last year.

She attributed the jump in killings to “increased demand for rhino horn in the international market, hence poachers” and also “a displacement of international criminal syndicates from other southern African states.”

Neighbouring South Africa, the traditional rhino poaching hotspot, has in recent years seen a steady decline in the number of animals killed due to increased patrols in national parks that have forced hunters seeking horns to look elsewhere.

The poaching of rhinos is driven by demand from Asia, where rhino horns are used in traditional medicine for their supposed therapeutic effect.

Botswana does not publicly disclose its rhino population, but a document the government presented before the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Panama last year showed there were an estimated 285 white rhinos and 23 black rhinos across the country.

In 2019, the country was home to just under 400 rhinos, according to Rhino Conservation Botswana, most of them roaming the grassy plains of the northern Okavango Delta.

According to another government document, Botswana had in recent years started dehorning rhinos to reduce their appeal to poachers, but this had not had the desired effect, as the stump of horn left would still be valuable to the poachers.

Rangers, law enforcement agencies, and non-governmental organizations have stepped up aerial and ground patrols to protect the rhino.