South Africa illegal rhino killings on the rise as COVID-19 curbs relaxed

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The easing of last year’s coronavirus lockdown restrictions on movement in South Africa was bad news for its rhinos, with the number illegally killed in the first half of 2021 up sharply.

Rhinoceros killed for their horns in South Africa, which has the world’s biggest population of the mammals, rose to 249 in the six months through June from 166 in the same period a year ago, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment said in a statement. That’s still down from 318 in the comparable 2019 period.

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As usual, killings have been particularly rife in Kruger National Park, where 132 of the animals were killed through the end of June.

“While the national lockdown that curbed the movement of people to halt the spread of the virus in 2020 contributed to a decrease in rhino poaching, the lifting of the stringent lockdown regulations appears to have seen an increase in rhino poaching, the ministry said.

South Africa is home to about 20,000 white rhinos and accounts for more the 90 percent of the world’s population of the species.

Demand for the animals’ horns in East Asia, where they’re believed by some people to cure cancer and boost virility, has led to a sharp increase in poaching over the last decade. White rhinos are the most common of the world’s five species and South Africa also has a small population of black rhinos.

The South African government said Saturday that collaboration with Southeast Asian countries to combat illegal trade in rhino horns is beginning to show results.

South African and Vietnamese authorities worked together to effect “one of the largest seizures of rhino horns and other wildlife products thereby disrupting syndicate activities, it said.

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