Environment Affairs Minister Edna Molewa used the commemoration of World Rangers Day to update South Africans on another rhino protection initiative – environmental monitors.
She told a gathering at Marakele National Park in Limpopo on Saturday that close to 1,500 environmental monitors have been deployed across the country since 2013. Their deployment has, according to her, seen an estimated 50% decrease in rhino poaching in “private host institutions” where monitors are active.
“All environmental monitors are trained as armed or unarmed field rangers through the Southern African Wildlife College in Hoedspruit, Limpopo. Further training, mostly non-accredited, is provided by various host institutions both in the public and private sector,” she said.
The key objectives of the programme are the provision of additional support for the conservation corps through patrolling and monitoring and providing capacity to conservation communities to enhance their mandate for biodiversity and ecosystems services, official government news agency SAnews reports.
Molewa called them “rhino ambassadors who play the role of protector and educator interchangeably”.
She gave no details of the rhino poaching decrease but statistics posted by conservationist Elize Daffue indicate South Africa lost rhinos at a rate of just on 100 a month for the first six months of 2015.
Molewa said rangers face complex and multi-facetted threats in the execution of their duties. These range from the results of climate change through to the activities of transnational criminal syndicates involved in illegal trade and trafficking of wildlife.
“It is our rangers who are at the forefront – whether they battling wildfires on confronting poachers,” she said adding World Ranger Day this year was focussed specifically on the work done by rangers to stop rhino poaching.
“One of Africa’s most iconic species, the rhino, is increasingly under threat from the poacher’s gun. Rhino populations around the country are vulnerable as are the rangers who have dedicated their lives to protecting the animals.
“In particularly hard-hit areas the ranger corps is being militarised with some rangers engaged in daily confrontations with heavily armed gangs in the parks. Poachers pose a major threat to the rhino population, particularly in the Kruger National Park, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape, North West and Mpumalanga,” the Minister said.
“Rangers work in environments ranging from peaceful one day to confrontational the next. This is a line of work where the ranger stands between the criminal and the poacher and the country’s natural heritage,” SANParks chief executive Fundisile Mketeni told the gathering outside Thabazimbi.
In 2016 South Africa will host the 17th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES.
Minister Molewa said this will provide South Africa with an opportunity to demonstrate not just the country’s conservation successes, but also to promote the sustainable utilisation of its natural resources as an integral part of conservation and economic growth.
The SA National Defence Force (SANDF), elements of which are deployed in the Kruger National Park as part of the border protection tasking Operation Corona, assist rangers with anti- and counter-poaching activities but this is a secondary task only.
SANParks, the CSIR and the military are piloting and evaluating UAVs as tools to improve rhino protection under a range of varying operational conditions in the world famous game reserve. The evaluation phase is expected to be completed by year-end.
The local defence industry, in the form of Denel and the Paramount Group, is also assisting in the fight against rhino poaching with donations of equipment and manpower. This has to date seen a Seeker UAV and a Seabird Seeker light surveillance aircraft deployed in Kruger.