Johannesburg – Three attempts are made every day by poachers to get into the Kruger National Park to slaughter rhinos.
And since the beginning of this year, there have been 1 617 positively identified poacher activities in the park with the park’s security teams having made physical contact with heavily armed poachers 95 times – almost three times a week – as opposed to 111 incidents for the whole of last year.
Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa said this while delivering her report-back on poaching on Sunday, putting an increase in poacher activities since last year at 27 percent.
“This means that there are 12 active poacher groups at any given time somewhere in the 2 million hectares of park.”
To hit back, “we have stepped up our efforts, which will include traditional anti-poaching policing strategies”, she said.
“The use of our K-9 units, night capability, as well as air and land capability, are now bearing fruit.”
The number of arrests had also increased, with 138 people arrested inside the park this year compared to 81 arrested during the same period last year, as at August 17.
But the Outraged South African Citizens Against Rhino Poaching organisation said the steps put in place by the government were “too little, too late”. Spokeswoman Allison Thomson said if poaching was on the increase, not enough had been done.
“While we appreciate it is a multi-departmental problem and that the government have put some steps in to combat it, they started too late.
“We were warned years ago that poaching was coming our way, but the government reacted too slowly and some of the steps they have implemented have not worked. The judicial system, especially, is not working, with only a 10 percent conviction rate,” she said.
The poaching figures were not cause for despondency, Molewa said. “Were it not for the interventions we have made, they could be far worse. Of course, we have to do far more if we are to stop the slaughter of these animals and this requires collaboration, teamwork and strengthening strategic partnerships. What gives me perhaps the greatest cause for hope is that communities are now, more than ever, playing a vital role in preserving our natural heritage,” she said.
Interventions put in place include the Intensive Protection Zone concept, where night airborne reaction, with well-equipped anti-poaching, rapid-response forces, was being implemented. The park has also received a donation of monocular night-vision equipment valued at R3.4 million from the Peace Parks Foundation to support the ranger corps.
The Environmental Department, the Green Scorpions, customs and border police were working together at OR Tambo International Airport to ensure compliance with the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act and to detect the trafficking of wildlife products, said Molewa.
A number of animals were being sold to the private sector as part of the department’s interventions to increase rhino numbers. SANParks has started with the translocation and delivery of white rhino from the Kruger National Park to private land owners and will deliver 150 during this year.
As part of the GEF-UNEP Rhino Project, where inter-departmental collaboration between the Environmental Department and the South African Judicial Education Institute (within the Department of Justice) takes place, a Judicial Colloquium on Biodiversity Crime was held last week.
About 150 magistrates from across the country attended the event which was aimed at raising awareness on environmental crime, with a focus on rhino poaching.
The next session of advanced biodiversity crime scene management training is on September 7. This will provide an opportunity to finalise the filming material which will serve as visual supplementary training material for rhino crime scene investigators. A prosecutor training conference is scheduled for November. Other interventions include dialogues with Cambodia, Mozambique and China.
Molewa said that in this, the Year of China in South Africa, the department would be hosting a delegation of youth from China next month to increase their awareness of wildlife management and crime in South Africa, and to raise awareness of the plight of the rhino and other wildlife.