The Democratic Alliance (DA) calls on the South African National Parks (SANParks) to present a comprehensive briefing to Parliament on the state of South Africa’s dwindling rhino population.

Last week, in a surprising move SANParks published the latest shocking rhino population numbers in their annual report. This follows officials declining a request by myself and colleague, Annerie Weber MP, during the Portfolio Committee on Environment, Forestry and Fisheries earlier that week that these numbers be released. This was in line with an answer to a written Parliamentary question in November 2020 where Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy, stated that “The Department does not publish this information because it poses a risk in terms of our conservation efforts”.

Well, SANParks have now released these numbers and they paint a grim picture on the future survival of rhinos in South Africa. SANParks has revealed that it only has 3 529 white rhinos and 268 black rhinos left in the Park. These figures are alarming and confirm that South Africa’s white and black rhino populations are nearing extinction.

SANParks have repeatedly stated that rhino poaching is declining but this is clearly not the case and in complete contradiction with what we have been hearing from people on the ground. Tourists and locals have consistently been reporting very low rhino numbers. These sentiments have been confirmed in chilling detail by the official numbers. It is now patently clear that the only reason that SANParks claims that poaching of rhino has decreased is because poachers are simply struggling to actually find more rhinos to poach.

The sad reality is that even with the low numbers of rhino, poaching still continues. This is borne out by the arrest two weeks ago of a suspected rhino horn dealer, in possession of over 70 kilograms of rhino horn and R500 000 in cash. The stratospheric value of rhino horn, which sells for more than gold or cocaine, will continue to attract poachers unless the department takes serious and urgent steps to intervene. More must be done to increase anti-poaching efforts and to tackle any potential corruption within the reserves.

I would urge the Minister to intervene and present a comprehensive and open briefing on the rhino situation. Poaching will be on the agenda of the Portfolio Committee on the 16th of February where we hope to get more answers. Government cannot continue to look the other way while almost 70% of our rhino population has been decimated. If urgent action isn’t taken soon, our rhinos could be extinct within a generation and our grandchildren will only be able to see them in photos and documentaries.

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Dave Bryant is a Member of the South African parliament. He is the Democratic Alliance (DA) Shadow Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries.

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