Poachers take advantage as South African game reserves go quiet during coronavirus pandemic

  • Video report by ITV News Senior International Correspondent John Irvine

You’ve probably seen them - the short videos of animals going where they have rarely gone before: bears in swimming pools; wild boars or flocks of sheep trotting through city centres.

Dolphins have been filmed at the water’s edge on the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul, where normally, the many ships passing through keep them away.

It seems the tables have been turned. While we are locked away, the animals are enjoying new freedoms.

Bears in swimming pools have been a new sight during the coronavirus pandemic, as animals venture to place they've never been. Credit: ITV News

But there is one group for whom the retreat of humans is bad news – the great beasts of South Africa’s game reserves.

Since lockdown was introduced in mid-March, poachers have killed at least nine rhinos.

South Africa is home to 80% of the rhinos left worldwide.

Poachers are exploiting the absence of tourists - overnight the safari business died. And without the income it provided the future of the game reserves is now in doubt.

South Africa is home to 80% of the rhinos left worldwide. Credit: ITV News

Anti-poaching rangers are essential workers, so in South Africa they still patrol. However, without tourist money, they fear for their jobs. They are the thin green line that separate rhinos from extinction.

There’s another reason that poaching is on the rise: people need to eat.

One and a half million South Africans work in the tourism sector, but the game reserves have laid off many of them and they are struggling to get by.

Coronavirus has upset a delicate balance on which both people and animals depended.

If tourists don’t reappear soon, then what they came to see, the natural spectacle of the Big Five and the rest, may disappear.