South Arica's COVID-19 battered economy produces more poachers

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By Daniel Bellamy
South Arica's COVID-19 battered economy produces more poachers
Copyright  AP Photo/Shiraaz Mohamed

South Africa's tourism industry is being shattered by the coronavirus pandemic and newly unemployed people are going hungry.

Hotels and bush camps, which are normally big employers, have been empty since the end of March which has resulted in layoffs.

So now, in desperation, more people who live near game reserves are turning to poaching to get by.

They're different from the professionals who kill rhinos for their horns and elephant for their tusks and can make big profits. There's evidence that that lockdown and travel restrictions actually curbed their activity.

And the absence of international tourists in the empty parks at first made it easier for rangers to spot the professionals, which led them to stay away.

They've now been mostly replaced now by amateurs who use crude methods like barbed wire to snare antelopes.

But poaching remains a dangerous business and the rangers want to remain anonymous.

"Just recently I had a confrontation with poachers, they were dangerous guys, carrying AK-47s," said 'Trevor,' one of the rangers at Kruger National Park who wished to remain anonymous. 

The World Wildlife Fund compared 2007 with 2014 and found that the number of rhinos killed between the those years went up from 13 to 1,215.

Rhino numbers had actually been rising in South Africa.

But there are now fears that its economy, broken by the pandemic, will produce more professional poachers.