More proof of the Kruger National Park’s “attraction” for poachers is that well over half of arrests nationally in connection with wildlife, particularly rhino, poaching in the first half of this year were in Mpumalanga.
Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa told a briefing in Cape Town this week that 359 alleged poachers and traffickers were arrested nationally.
“The number of arrests inside Kruger totalled 90 with a further 112 arrests effected in Mpumalanga, the province adjacent to the game reserve”.
She reported a drop of 13 in the number of rhino carcasses found nationally in the first six months of the year, adding her department and government was “acutely aware that in order to make a real impact on rhino poaching, arrests must translate into successful prosecutions”.
Part of this effort has seen the Skukuza Regional Court reinstated and running since March with, according to the Minister, “a number of successful prosecutions” to its name.
The Stock Theft and Endangered Species Unit of the SA Police Service (SAPS) continues to play an instrumental role in ensuring rhino poaching cases come to trial, Molewa said, adding its track record to date year was noteworthy.
“Since January 15 cases have been finalised resulting in convictions with 22 perpetrators sentenced to a total of 95 years imprisonment. It is anticipated the regional court at Skukuza will address the remaining cases.
“Additionally, the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations (DPCI), better known as the Hawks, working in co-operation with other government departments has also done sterling work since January. The Hawks have made arrests and seizures in nine rhino horn trafficking cases, involving 13 suspects and approximately 140kg of rhino horn.
“The co-ordinated efforts of the Hawks and the South African Revenue Service (SARS) Customs Department, supported by Environmental Management Inspectors (EMIs) are beginning to result in dismantling of trafficking networks.”
She gave four examples of trial and conviction with a total jail sentence of 58 years. Sentences were handed down for charges including trespassing, possession of unlicensed firearms, illegal immigration, poaching and conspiracy to commit poaching.
In the first six months of the year poachers killed 529 rhino with the majority falling to high-power hunting rifles carried by mostly Mozambicans in Kruger. This is 13 less than the 542 recorded nationally in the first six months of last year.