Protection efforts in South Africa's biggest wildlife park have reduced rhino poaching there, though poaching syndicates may be moving operations to parks elsewhere in the country, a top official said Sunday.
The carcasses of 458 poached rhinos were found in Kruger National Park between January and the end of August, down about 18 percent from the same period last year, said Edna Molewa, South Africa's environmental affairs minister.
The African News Agency quoted Molewa as saying that poaching groups may be responding to pressure in Kruger park by killing more rhinos in other areas, although rhino poaching nationwide is still down from last year. Areas where rhino poaching has increased include the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal, Free State and the Northern Cape.
Poachers killed 36 elephants this year in Kruger park, a worrying development in an area that had been mostly unaffected by the Africa-wide slaughter of elephants. A study released last month reported a big decline in the number of Africa's savannah elephants in the past decade as international and domestic ivory trades drove poachingacross the continent.
"It is also of concern that we have also begun experiencing an increase in elephant poaching, despite the vigorous and determined efforts by our rangers, the police, and soldiers on the ground," Molewa said.
A total of 414 alleged poachers have been arrested in South Africa so far this year, nearly half of them in Kruger park, according to the South African government. The park, which is almost the size of Israel, is infiltrated daily by teams of poachers, many of whom come from neighboring Mozambique.
Record numbers of rhinos have been killed in South Africa in recent years to meet demand for their horns in parts of Asia, particularly Vietnam. Consumers believe rhino horn, which is ground into powder, has medicinal benefits, but there is no scientific evidence to support the belief.
South Africa had implemented a moratorium on sale of rhino horn in 2009 with the hope of curbing poaching but the ban appeared to have had the opposite effect, with the number of poached rhinos rising steadily each year since the ban was imposed. The country's Supreme Court of Appeal officially lifted the ban in May.