Poach­ing fig­ures stir cau­tious op­ti­mism

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE -

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.

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