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CityPress - - News -

lmost half a bil­lion rand in donor funds pumped into the Kruger Na­tional Park has done lit­tle to slow the slaugh­ter of its rhi­nos.

In the 2014/15 fi­nan­cial year, na­tional parks au­thor­ity SANParks – with the depart­ment of en­vi­ron­men­tal af­fairs (DEA), the Green Scor­pi­ons and other or­gan­i­sa­tions con­cerned with rhino pro­tec­tion – re­ceived more than R437.7 mil­lion to halt the dev­as­tat­ing rhino-poach­ing scourge in the coun­try. The Kruger Park, where most rhino poach­ing oc­curs, re­ceived most of the money.

Yet SANParks is los­ing on av­er­age three rhi­nos a day in the park, home to 82% of Africa’s re­main­ing rhino pop­u­la­tion. Be­tween 2013 and last year, poach­ing in the park in­creased by 21%.

SANParks, the DEA, Ezemvelo in KwaZu­luNatal and the Peace Parks Foun­da­tion re­ceived:

R175.9 mil­lion from the Dutch post­code lottery;

R134.4 mil­lion – in­clud­ing R129.6 mil­lion from Howard Buf­fett’s foun­da­tion – ring-fenced for the Kruger Park. Buf­fett is an Amer­i­can busi­ness­man, farmer, phi­lan­thropist and con­ser­va­tion­ist, and the son of bil­lion­aire in­vestor War­ren Buf­fett;

R110 mil­lion from the US depart­ment of state, which was given to SANParks for equip­ment;

R46.9 mil­lion from the Global En­vi­ron­ment Fa­cil­ity, a part­ner­ship be­tween 183 coun­tries to ad­dress global en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues; R31.7 mil­lion in pri­vate do­na­tions; R27.5 mil­lion from the US depart­ment of state to non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions to run anti-rhino-poach­ing pro­grammes;

R12.7 mil­lion from the Swedish post­code lottery; and

R3.1 mil­lion from Bavaria Brew­eries, the Adopt a Rhino cam­paign and other small donors.

This amount ex­cludes R21.38 mil­lion worth of “in kind” do­na­tions – usu­ally goods and ser­vices in­stead of money – which was made to var­i­ous in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing the DEA, the Green Scor­pi­ons, the World Wide Fund for Na­ture and re­search body the CSIR.

De­spite cre­at­ing a se­cu­rity cordon, called the “Ber­lin wall of se­cu­rity”, around the Kruger Park’s in­ten­sive pro­tec­tion zone in the south of the re­serve, the park is still los­ing record num­bers of rhi­nos to poach­ers – who feed highly lu­cra­tive mar­kets mainly in Viet­nam and China.

On Mon­day last week, 10 rhino car­casses were found in the park, and two weeks ago 36 were found af­ter a par­tic­u­larly bloody week­end.

Of­fi­cially, the coun­try lost 1 215 rhi­nos last year – 827 in the Kruger Park.

In April, En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Edna Molewa told a press brief­ing the coun­try had lost 212 Kruger rhi­nos and a fur­ther 331 coun­try­wide in the first four months of this year. SANParks is no longer re­leas­ing weekly rhino poach­ing fig­ures.

“Crim­i­nals ... are also con­sumers of the in­for­ma­tion we re­lease,” Molewa said at the time. Fig­ures should not be given as “fod­der to or­gan­ised crim­i­nal syn­di­cates”.

How­ever, City Press was told by two se­nior SANParks of­fi­cials, who asked not to be named, that Molewa’s fig­ures were “in­ac­cu­rate” and the “real fig­ure is closer to 500 [Kruger] rhi­nos shot and killed this year al­ready”.

De­spite the min­is­ter claim­ing that the birth rates of rhi­nos have in­creased, the rhino pop­u­la­tion runs a real risk of not sur­viv­ing the re­lent­less poach­ing de­spite the mil­lions of rands be­ing thrown at the prob­lem.

Two years ago, sci­en­tists warned that the Kruger’s black rhi­nos would reach a “tip­ping point” – when the death rate ex­ceeded the birth rate – next year and white rhi­nos would face the same in 2020 given the cur­rent poach­ing tra­jec­tory.

Molewa said in April that there were be­tween 8 000 and 9 000 white rhi­nos left in the Kruger Park. But a se­nior sci­en­tist work­ing for SANParks told City Press this fig­ure “is the best-case sce­nario and likely in­flated by about 2 000 rhi­nos”.

Rhino ex­pert, bi­ol­o­gist and wildlife vet­eri­nar­ian Kobus du Toit said Molewa’s count was “im­pos­si­ble”, telling in­ves­tiga­tive wildlife site Ox­peck­ers there were only be­tween 1 500 and 3 000 white rhi­nos left in the Kruger Park.

A year ago, rhino poach­ing was de­clared a na­tional pri­or­ity crime when Molewa, na­tional po­lice com­mis­sioner Gen­eral Riah Phiyega and head of de­tec­tives Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Vi­nesh Moonoo an­nounced a range of mea­sures, in­clud­ing tar­get­ing syn­di­cates, re­lo­cat­ing rhi­nos to safer ar­eas in the Kruger Park and other parks, selling rhi­nos for their own safety to pri­vate own­ers to de­velop other growth nodes, and train­ing pros­e­cu­tors and mak­ing mag­is­trates aware of the prob­lem.

By that time, a joint task force of rangers and a large group of de­fence force sol­diers had been trained and de­ployed in the park un­der com­mand of re­tired Ma­jor Gen­eral Jo­han Jooste.

The na­tional rhino oper­a­tions cen­tre in the Kruger Park was built and set up to cen­tralise and strengthen the co­or­di­na­tion of an­tipoach­ing oper­a­tions and ac­tiv­i­ties.

In Fe­bru­ary this year, the Hawks’ new head, Ma­jor Gen­eral Mthandazo Ntle­meza, told the par­lia­men­tary port­fo­lio com­mit­tee on po­lice that he had sent a team of in­ves­ti­ga­tors – the na­tional in­ter­ven­tion unit – to the Kruger Park. “We are go­ing af­ter the king­pins ... and to break the backs of syn­di­cates,” he said at the time.

How­ever, City Press was told by three of­fi­cials work­ing di­rectly on poach­ing in the Kruger that not a sin­gle rhino-horn poach­ing syn­di­cate had been un­cov­ered in which the poach­ers were con­victed and jailed.

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