Communities supporting poachers must be targeted – Hawks boss


Lieutenant General Berning Ntlemeza, head of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (better known as the Hawks), wants community involvement with poachers stopped.

He told the Police Parliamentary Portfolio Committee that impoverished communities on the borders of the Kruger National Park were accepting money from organised rhino poaching syndicates to provide lodging for poachers.
“Heavily armed, wealthy poachers avoid hotels and hide in villages, waiting for night to fall before they sneak into the park to kill rhino and harvest horn. This development has prompted the inter-governmental operation against rhino poaching to extend its focus outside parks and involve local communities,” a Parliamentary Communications statement issued on behalf of Francois Beukman’s Portfolio Committee said.

Ntlemeza is reported as having told the Committee that by offering accommodation to poachers, communities next to the Kruger National Park were assisting in the killing of rhinos.
“I am unhappy with the community involvement in this. They take money from the poachers and provide accommodation. We need to mobilise and sensitise the communities living next to our parks,” he said.

Retired army Major General Johan Jooste, now Commanding Officer for SANParks Special Projects, said a new approach – “clearing the park of poachers from the outside” – has been adopted.
“Community involvement is the only way to save the park. We need to go beyond awareness. If communities don’t own or benefit from the park we are not going to win the fight against poaching,” he said.

Beukman supports the drive to involve communities, repeating Jooste’s words that “without the involvement of local communities we are not going to win the battle against rhino poaching”.

He was also in favour of adding the latest technologies, including UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), to the arsenal of weapons available to the counter-poaching brigade.

Last month Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said rhino poaching in South Africa had “stabilised” in 2015. Poachers killed 1,175 rhinos, 40 less than 2014’s all-time high of 1,215.
“It is the first decrease in rhino poaching in a decade and signals stabilisation in the national rhino poaching situation,” she told a briefing in Pretoria.

UAVs or RPAS (remotely piled aircraft systems, as the SA Civil Aviation Authority prefers to call them), have been put to use in the fight against rhino poachers in South Africa’s iconic Kruger National Park. A number of different UAVs were earmarked for evaluation and testing last year. This was put on hold pending publication of SACAA regulations for this aircraft type. Indications are test flying will resume in the not too distant future.