Rhino poachers target KZN as Kruger killings decline

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KwaZulu-Natal is seemingly now the venue of choice for rhino poachers in South Africa, with the province losing 143 of the Big Five species in the first six months of the year, compared to 42 shot in the Kruger National Park (KNP) in the same period.

Speaking at the headquarters of national parks management agency SANParks, in Pretoria’s Groenkloof yesterday (1 August), Forestry, Fisheries and Environment Minister Barbara Creecy said “poaching trends” for the first half of 2023 showed “a move away from Kruger to provincial and private reserves”.

A Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) statement reads verbatim, in part: “42 rhino were poached in the KNP and 143 in KwaZulu-Natal from January to June 2023. Forty-six of the rhino killed were in privately-owned nature reserves and 143 in provincially owned reserves”.

In total South Africa lost 231 rhino to poachers between January and the end of June (including 20 in Limpopo, five in Mpumalanga, five in North West, 15 in Eastern Cape and one in Western Cape). This is down by 28 animals (11%) on the corresponding period last year.

KwaZulu-Natal Democratic Alliance (DA) Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (EDTEA) spokesman Heinz de Boer points to the overall sorry state of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the provincial conservation agency, as one reason for the poaching surge in the province. He said Ezemvelo has – since 2020 – “relied on poles, droppers and fencing with no new contracts to keep animals in and poachers out”.

“I and the party I represent sympathise with Ezemvelo’s field rangers and ground staff who continue to risk their lives in the ongoing fight against poaching. The total disrepair of most Ezemvelo facilities including fences can no longer be tolerated.

“Despite challenges, there has been little political will from the KwaZulu-Nata provincial government to pass legislation, procure budgets, hold managers to account and put this critical entity on an even keel. EDTEA MEC, Siboniso Duma and former MEC, now Premier Nomusa Dube-Ncube, should hang their heads in shame over the Ezemvelo debacle. It is the mandate of this department to ensure protection and survival of the province’s natural heritage – a task it fail dismally,” De Boer said in a statement.

Referring to Hluhluwe/iMfolozi, the Ezemvelo flagship reserve and the site where the southern white rhino was saved from extinction, Creecy said a tactical operations joint control centre to facilitate police deployments was up and running. Additionally, the NPA designated a prosecutor to rhino cases. “The department [she does not specify either DFFE or the provincial EDTEA] made available R40 million for repair and replacement of the boundary fence around the Hluhluwe/iMfolozi game reserve which is regularly breached and through which wild animals can escape to nearby communities,” according to her.

In Pretoria, Creecy pointed out collaboration between at least six law enforcement agencies as contributing to the decrease in overall rhino poaching. They are the SA Police Service (SAPS), DPCI and the Green Scorpions, SA Revenue Service (SARS) customs officials, the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). This collaboration is further strengthened thanks to Cabinet’s May approval of the National Integrated Strategy to Combat Wildlife Trafficking (NISCWT).

“The strategy aims to break the illicit value chain of wildlife trafficking in South Africa and beyond its borders. It represents a commitment by government to direct law enforcement ability and effort and mobilise society support to address the threat wildlife tracking poses to national security and the country’s biodiversity. Our main focus currently is rhino with the strategy also aiming to address illegal trade in, and poaching of, other species threatened by trafficking syndicates, like abalone,” Creecy said.

On arrests and convictions, the Minister referred to 31 successful convictions in the first half of 2023 in the KNP, Limpopo and Eastern Cape. Twenty-four, 32 and 34 year sentences were among those handed down.