POACHING ISN'T BLACK & WHITE
The feature length documentary ‘Disunity’ examines the disagreements and conflict within the conservation movement, in particular the stakeholders involved in protecting the rhinoceros in their range states across the African continent.
It has been nearly 40 years since the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) placed a ban on the international sale of rhino horn, and since then, 95% of the world’s rhino have been lost with all but one species considered critically endangered. On top of this, the Western black rhino was declared extinct by the IUCN in 2011 and there are only 3 left of the Northern white rhino. With the April 2016 announcement that the South African government will not be putting forward a proposal to CITES to vote on legalising the rhino horn trade, these stakeholders now find themselves in a position where they either unite or face inevitable extinction of one of the world’s most iconic animals.
Filmed for a year in just under 20 countries, ‘Disunity’ will be offering its viewers an inside look into the complexity of life for people who live with and face the daily struggle of protecting the rhino. The documentary will also be examining the role poverty plays in the rural communities from which the majority of poachers originate. Often deemed as ‘evil’ and ‘the enemy,’ black Africans have become the go to stereotype of anti-poaching campaigns to ‘save the rhino.’ However as history tells us, situations like this are never quite as black and white as some people would like you to believe.
“There is money to be made by driving a species extinct.”
THE RHINO POACHING CRISIS
In February 2017, the Department for Environmental Affairs released poaching statistics for 2016, showing a 10.3% decline in rhino poaching as compared with the previous year. There’s no reason to celebrate: 1,054 rhinos killed in South Africa alone during 2016 works out nearly three rhinos being killed every day. And while poaching is down in Kruger National Park, it is significantly up in other provinces, particularly KwaZulu-Natal.
Furthermore, there are continuing and worrying signs that poaching gangs are increasingly moving beyond South Africa’s borders; gaining a foothold in other African countries – many of which have less resources available to protect wildlife. We’re certainly not out of the woods yet.
South African Poaching Explained
South Africa has by far the largest population of rhinos in the world and is an incredibly important country for rhino conservation. From 2007-2014 the country experienced an exponential rise in rhino poaching – a growth of over 9,000%. Most illegal activity occurs in Kruger National Park, a 19,485 km2 of protected habitat on South Africa’s north-eastern border with Mozambique. Kruger consistently suffered heavy poaching loses, and so in the last few years the government and international donors have channelled ever more funding and resources into securing the Park.
In 2016, figures show a dip in poaching in South Africa for the second year in a row, indicating that increased protection efforts are paying off. Although it is encouraging to see South Africa’s poaching levels fall, the losses are still extremely high. A rise in incidents outside Kruger National Park also points to the growing sophistication of poaching gangs that are gaining a wider geographical coverage and – it would seem - expanding their operations across borders.
The Wider African context
The current poaching crisis actually began in Zimbabwe, where the difficult socio-economic and political climate facilitated rhino poaching. Once the easy pickings had been had in Zimbabwe, poaching gangs turned their attention to neighbouring South Africa, which saw massive increases in poaching from 2009-2014.
In around 2013, the South African crisis spread to other countries in Africa. First Kenya was hit hard – its worst year for poaching was in 2013, when 59 animals were killed (more than 5% of the national population). In 2015 both Zimbabwe and Namibia were hit hard: Namibia lost 80 rhinos to poaching, up from 25 in 2014 and just two in 2012; while in Zimbabwe at least 50 rhinos were poached in 2015, more than double the previous year. For Africa as a whole, the total number of rhinos poached during 2015 was the highest in two decades.