Rhino poaching: How do we respond?


This report outlines the main actors in rhino conservation, the major main threats to rhinos in the ‘Big 4’ range states (Zimbabwe, Kenya, South Africa and Namibia) which together conserve almost 99% and 96% of Africa’s wild white and black rhino respectively, and offers a review of a range of possible policy responses.

The main conservation actors across the Big 4 can be grouped as:

  • Public sector conservation agencies, including government departments and parastatal boards
  • International organisations
  • Regional organisations
  • Locally based NGOs
  • Private sector
  • External agencies, including conservation NGOs and donors
  • Sub-state entities, including local communities

The range of actors is slightly different in each country, and the relative importance of different actors varies across countries. The main threats to black and white rhinos are:

  • Poaching, driven by illegal demand for rhino horn from South East Asia
  • Disinvestment by some in the private sector due to the increasing costs and risks of protecting rhinos coupled with declining incentives for conserving rhino
  • Resources are currently insufficient to adequately protect some populations

Currently poaching rates are lower than birth rates, so rhino numbers continue to rise. However, poaching at a continental level has increased significantly since 2007-8; and if this trend continues unabated the tipping point (where deaths start to exceed births and rhino numbers start declining) could be reached as early as 2014/2015. Therefore interventions to tackle poaching at this stage can be seen as a critically important preventative measure.

There are 9 key findings from the review of possible policy responses:

  1. Each range state requires a different menu of approaches that deal with both proximate and ultimate causes of the rises in rhino poaching.

  2. Capturing the economic value of rhinos is important.
  3. Even though it is illegal, there is currently a lucrative market for rhino horn products in some countries.
  4. Efforts need to focus on demand reduction in end user communities, but there is insufficient knowledge of the dynamics of those markets.
  5. Despite increased prison sentences in some rhino range states, poaching continues to escalate in some countries, while some states do not or did not have ‘deterrence sentences’ at all.
  6. Dehorning can have a (limited) deterrence effect but is not a practical option for all rhino populations.
  7. Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) can have a (limited) deterrence effect.
  8. Each of the 4 range states faces a different combination of threats and their circumstances differ, therefore efforts need to be tailored and targeted
  9. Effective Governance ‘Matters’.


Duffy, R.; Emslie, R.H.; Knight, M.H. Rhino poaching: How do we respond? Evidence on Demand, UK (2013) 35 pp. [DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12774/eod_hd087.oct2013.duffy]

Rhino poaching: How do we respond?

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