Poachers are hunting elsewhere as rhino numbers at the Kruger National Park dwindle. Photo: AP

South Africa’s Kruger National Park has witnessed a steady decline in rhino poaching due to a massive drop in the population of the animals hunted for their high-value horns.

The number of rhinos in the world-famous park dropped by 70% from 10,000 in 2008 to 2,800 in 2021, according to statistics from the national parks authority, SANParks.

With the decline in rhino numbers, fewer poaching incidents have been recorded.

According to the government, 42 of the park's rhinos were killed for their horns from January to June 2023, almost half the number poached in the same period in 2022.

Overall, 231 rhinos were killed across South Africa in the first six months of 2023, an 11% drop compared to 2022, according to the environment ministry.

Environment Minister Barbara Creecy said it was "no secret" that the rhino population in the park "has been severely battered through almost 20 years of poaching."

"This is why you see a displacement to other areas," she told a press conference.

She, however, attributed the overall downward trend in poaching to the "incredible work" of rangers and law enforcement agencies.

Poachers hunting elsewhere

Creecy declined to reveal the number of rhinos currently in the park, which borders Mozambique. She said such information would provide "intelligence" to criminals.

Illegal hunters have turned their sights on regional parks and private reserves, the government said.

The eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal has been particularly affected, with 143 rhinos killed there in the first half of 2023, ten more than in the same period in 2022.

Home to nearly 80% of the world's rhinoceroses, South Africa is a poaching hotspot, driven by demand from foreign markets, particularly Asia, where horns are used in traditional medicine for their supposed therapeutic effect.

In recent years, the government has tightened security in Kruger and stepped up efforts to tackle the illegal trade in wildlife parts.

As of 2023, new SANParks employees have to take a lie detector test amid suspicions that some workers might be colluding with poachers.