Poaching figures stir cautious optimism
RECENTLY released figures on rhino poaching indicate there has been a slight decrease compared to the same period last year.
Between January and June 2017 a total of 529 rhino were poached nationally, compared with 542 in the same period last year. The Kruger National Park (KNP), being hardest hit, registered a significant decrease of 111, from, 354 to 243, in the same period in 2016.
While these declining numbers certainly do not mean we can proclaim victory in the battle against rhino poaching, we have established a downward trend – which is cause for cautious optimism.
It is a further indication that the government’s Integrated Strategic Management (IMS) of rhinoceros approach, adopted by the cabinet in 2014, is on the right track.
This approach brings together the justice, crime prevention and security cluster departments and a number of state agencies, namely the departments of Defence, Environmental Affairs, Justice, Constitutional Development and Correctional Services, the South African Police Service (SAPS), the Ministry of State Security and its agency, South African National Parks (SANParks), the South African Revenue Service (Sars), as well as provincial conservation authorities.
The implementation plan for our IMS approach, together with the outcomes of the report of the committee of inquiry has been refined following a month-long rhino laboratory held last year.
The outcomes of the rhino lab are aligned with five key areas, namely, law enforcement, demand management, management of rhino populations, community empowerment and responsive legislation.
Between January and June 2017, a total of 359 alleged poachers and traffickers were arrested nationally, with 90 of these arrests related to offences happening inside the KNP.
With regard to investigations and prosecutions, the stock theft and endangered species unit has begun to strengthen our conviction rate capacity and ensuring rhino poaching cases come to trial.
Since January, 15 cases have been recently finalised which resulted in convictions where 22 perpetrators were sentenced to a total of 95 years’ imprisonment.
The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI), working in close co-operation with other government departments, has made arrests and seizures in nine cases of rhino horn trafficking, involving 13 suspects and approximately 140kg of rhino horn.
In addition, the Skukuza Regional Court is now fully functional with a number of successful prosecutions.
The co-ordinated efforts between DPCI, Sars and customs, supported by the environmental management inspectors (EMIs) are beginning to result in the dismantling the trafficking networks.
The department’s EMIs, also known as the Green Scorpions, continue their collaboration with other government agencies to combat the illegal import and export of wildlife products. Since the beginning of this year, there have been several detections at OR Tambo International Airport.
We have also formally requested DNA samples from illegally traded horn confiscated in Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Swaziland, Namibia, Mozambique and the Netherlands. These samples assist in linking such seizures to poaching incidents providing important information to assist with further investigations.
This was successfully employed in a cross-border investigation between Swaziland and South Africa, following the seizure of a consignment of rhino horn at OR Tambo International Airport this year.
A total of 3 496kg of rhino horns were seized between our two countries.
DNA matching indicated that the rhino horns were linked to a rhino poaching incident at Balule Game Reserve, Hoedspruit, in January, as well as incidents in the North West Province and KZN. Such successes are indicative of the growing co-operation within the SADC region to combat rhino poaching. Beyond SADC, we continue to strengthen our international collaboration and have now implemented our memorandums of understanding with Vietnam, China, Laos, Cambodia, Mozambique and Kenya.
In addition, we continue our collaboration with the international law enforcement networks, in particular the International Consortium to Combat Wildlife Crime, the Cites Secretariat, Interpol and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
While we realised a decrease in the number of rhinos killed for their horns in the KNP and Mpumalanga, the number of rhinos poached unfortunately increased in other provinces, especially KwaZulu-Natal.
Our provincial conservation authorities and SANParks ensure the execution of plans inside our provincial and national parks. This has necessitated that almost the entire ranger corps be converted to anti-poaching units. They are well trained and supported by canine units, small air wings, and relevant technology.
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife has begun strengthening its response capacity as an anti-poaching unit in line with the existing mission area joint operational centre. As part of the plan, they are now setting up an intensive protection zone (IPZ) to ensure priority allocation of resources to where it matters most.
Based on the success registered in the implementation of the zoning concept in the KNP, this concept is also being rolled out in other provinces, according to their specific requirements and circumstances.
In addition to the IPZ concept, we continue with other measures aimed at managing rhino populations, such as translocation of rhino away from high risk poaching areas.
The results of translocations offer future guidance towards establishment of rhino strongholds in the KNP and other rhino range states. This exciting concept of translocations provides prospects and opportunities to establish strongholds with local communities as key partners.
The gains made as a result of translocations by the end of 2016 offset about 25% of the rhinos lost in the KNP during the 2016 calendar year.
In addition, our rhino protection programme continues to support orphanage care centres for young rhino calves whose mothers have been poached. SANParks alone has rescued four orphans this year and presently holds 44 rhino orphans at various facilities. We have also initiated a new Rhino Guardian project in the KNP during January 2017.
The decline we see in the number of our rhino poached motivates all sectors of society to work with us to tackle this problem, be they our citizens, NGO community, business community, civil society and our ranger corps, who put their lives on the line daily to keep our precious natural resources safe.
We have not won the battle against rhino poaching. But we should celebrate successes even when they are small.
A total of 359 alleged poachers and traffickers were arrested
Molewa is minister of environmental affairs.