The decimation of a part of South Africa’s natural heritage is on the decline thanks to interventions from conservation and law enforcement.
Environment, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy said the number of rhino poached last year was 594, a decline of 225 over 2018 and well down from the thousand plus recorded in 2014. The exact figure that year was 1 215, the highest since recording poaching statistics started.
Announcing the statistics, Creecy said the decline was due to a combination of measures implemented in line with government strategy. These include improved capabilities to react to poaching incidents linked to better situational awareness and deployment of technology; improved information collection and sharing among law enforcement authorities; better regional and national co-operation and “more meaningful involvement” of the private sector, NGOs and donors.
“A decline in poaching for five consecutive years is a reflection of diligent work by men and women who put their lives on the line daily to combat rhino poaching, often coming into direct contact with ruthless poachers,” the Minister said.
The Kruger National Park remained the prime choice for rhino poachers with 2 014 “poaching incursion activities” recorded in the 2019 calendar year. These saw the world famous game reserve lose 327 rhino, well over half the national loss.
In provincial terms, KwaZulu-Natal reported the next highest rhino loss with 133 followed by Limpopo (45), Mpumalanga (34) and North West (32).
Creecy said steps to address rhino poaching and wildlife crime nationally are aligned to the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros as well as principles in the draft National Integrated Strategy to Combat Wildlife Trafficking (NISCWT). This document will go to Cabinet for consideration in the first half of this year.
The NISCWT was a recommendation of the Committee of Inquiry into whether South Africa should table a recommendation for legal trade, or not, of rhino horn to the 17th Conference of Parties to the Convention on the Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora in 2016. It aims to strengthen law enforcement aspects of the successful multi-disciplinary approach – the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros – and broadens the scope to combat other wildlife trafficking, not only rhino poaching, a Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries statement said.
“Because wildlife trafficking constitutes a highly sophisticated form of serious transnational organised crime that threatens national security, the aim is to establish an integrated strategic framework for an intelligence-led, well-resourced, multi-disciplinary and consolidated law enforcement approach to focus and direct law enforcement ability supported by government and society.”
As regards elephant poaching, the Department reports 31 elephant were poached in South Africa in 2019 – 30 in Kruger and 1one in Mapungubwe National Park. This is a decrease in the number poached in 2018, when 71 were killed for their tusks.
During 2019, successes were recorded in arrests and convictions linked to rhino poaching and the illicit trade in rhino horn. This reflects the joint and integrated work of law enforcement entities, including the Stock Theft and Endangered Species Unit of SAPS, the Hawks, SANParks, provincial park authorities and Environmental Management Inspectors (Green Scorpions) and Customs as well as the National Prosecuting Authority.
From January to December 2019, 178 alleged poachers were arrested in the Kruger National Park. At a national level, 332 arrests were effected for both rhino poaching and rhino horn trafficking and more than 57 major investigations were undertaken nationally.
The arrests resulted in convictions and cases presently before the courts. For the period 1 January to 31 December 2019 more than 140 people were sentenced to between two and 15 plus years in prison.
Since the last report on the rhino poaching situation and efforts being made to address it, rhino horn samples were received for analysis from Vietnam to determine if the confiscated horns are linked to crimes in South Africa. The Hawks received good co-operation from China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Japan in efforts to combat wildlife trafficking, the Department said.