The combined efforts of rangers, soldiers and police has not brought about a meaningful drop in the number of rhinos killed for their horn this year but hopes are high that this will change following a meeting between South African conservation enforcement agencies and their Mozambican counterparts.
Part of an overall plan to fine-tune anti-poaching operations involves cross border operations to pursue and arrest Mozambicans who kill rhinos in the Kruger National Park, Johannesburg daily The Times reported. Those arrested on suspicion of rhino poaching will be extradited to South Africa to face charges in local courts.
With up to 90% of poachers reportedly from Mozambique, retired SA Army Major General Johan Jooste told the paper: “Law enforcement should not be side-lined by international borders”.
Latest statistics issued by the Department of Environment Affairs show that 334 of the 536 rhinos killed so far this year have been Kruger animals.
The current rate of poaching shows the country is losing 2.5 rhinos a day to the high-powered hunting rifles of poachers. If the carnage continues at the same rate until December 31, the national rhino population could be down by close on 920, well up on last year’s loss figure of 668.
While poaching continues unabated, operations by rangers, soldiers and other law enforcement agencies are improving the arrest success rate. The first seven months of the year saw 147 arrests for poaching and related criminal activities, 120 less than for 2012. With Kruger the favoured target of poachers, the iconic game reserve also accounts for the highest number of arrests at 64. An indication of the effect the more militaristic approach to anti-poaching operations in the park is having can be gathered from last year’s total arrest figure of 73.
Jooste has been in overall charge of SANParks anti-poaching operations since the beginning of the year in line with what the national conservation agency’s chief executive, Dr David Mabunda, has called “the low-intensity war” against poachers.
He told the paper co-ordination between South African and Mozambican law enforcement agencies was “dismal”.
“A poacher will run across the border and fire victory shots. He will sit in sight of the ranger and smoke because rangers dare not cross that line (the border).
“Should a SANParks official or a soldier shoot a poacher across the border it would create a serious international incident and might be seen as an act of war.”
The retired two star general said the “insurgency war” was changing the face of Kruger with new security technology on the way. This includes putting down cables that pick up vibrations in the ground and the use of aircraft with sensitive surveillance equipment able to “see” 50 km beyond the park’s borders.