Rhino poaching is on the rise again across the country since the government loosened coronavirus restrictions, following a year-long lull due to the pandemic, wildlife parks say.

The strict limits on travel, including international travel, imposed in March last year had the happy side effect of keeping poachers at bay. In 2020, 394 rhinos were poached, 30% fewer than the year before and the lowest yearly tally since 2011.

But then South Africa began easing international travel restrictions in November.

“Since November, December last year and into 2021, this landscape and particularly Kruger National Park has been experiencing serious numbers of rhino poaching incidents,” said Jo Shaw, the Africa Rhino Lead for WWF International Network.

She declined to say how many incidents had occurred.

“There is a very real and realised threat as poaching pressure has increased since lockdown perhaps to meet the demand from the international markets,” she said.

Rhino poaching often involves both local poachers and international criminal syndicates that smuggle the high value commodity across borders, often to Asia where demand is high.

Their methods are cruel: rhinos are sometimes shot with a tranquiliser gun before the horn is hacked off, resulting in the animal being left to bleed to death, Save the Rhino said on its website.

Other rhinos are killed with high-powered hunting rifles before the horn is removed, said Julian Rademeyer, director of the organised crime observatory for east and southern Africa at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime.

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