Fighting back against rhino poachers – in the bush and in court


More suspected rhino poachers have been arrested so far this year than were taken into custody for the whole of last year but rhino poaching continues unabated with 825 carcasses bearing mute testimony to the continued slaughter of this Big Five species.

This translates into 2.7 rhinos a day, with the Kruger National park still the favoured target of poachers, the majority of whom are Mozambicans. This point was stressed by former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano speaking at the launch of the Joaquim Chissano Foundation Wildlife Preservation Initiative in Maputo earlier this week.

He said 70% of the rhino killed in South Africa can be attributed to Mozambicans. Correspondingly, 68% of suspected poachers arrested in South Africa are from South Africa’s eastern neighbour.

This point was also made earlier this year by retired SA Army general Johan Jooste, now in overall charge of SANParks wildlife anti-poaching operations. He wants a government to government agreement to give Kruger National Park rangers a “hot pursuit” option. This will allow rangers to follow poaching suspects across the border without creating international incidents.

The SA National Defence Force (SANDF), via the SA Army and Army Reserves as well as SA Air Force elements, are also active in anti-rhino poaching operations in the world-renowned game reserve. Proof it is the target of choice for poachers comes from Kruger losing by far the largest number of rhinos – 500 – of any area or province.

As of the beginning of this month, 272 arrests of alleged poachers and others suspected of involvement in the horn poaching chain were secured by South African law enforcement agencies. The majority of arrests – 101 – were in Kruger.

The involvement of the wider South African defence sector in counter poaching operations is illustrated by Denel Dynamics deploying a Seeker UAV in Kruger and a Seabird Seeker reconnaissance aircraft compliments of Ivor Ichikowitz’ Paramount Group.

This week saw another side of the national effort to curb and hopefully stop rhino poaching with the first international DNA sampling training workshop. Held at the SA Wildlife College outside Kruger’s Orpen Gate, it was attended by a law enforcement officer for each of the 11 African rhino range states with representatives from China, Thailand and Vietnam also attending.

The capacity of law enforcement officers working along national borders, at border posts and in protected areas to detect, investigate and prosecute offenders involved in rhinoceros poaching and illegal rhinoceros horn trade has been boosted through a series of lectures and field visits to the Kruger National Park to partake in the physical DNA sampling of rhino poached in the park. Special focus was given to the increased use of rhinoceros horn DNA sampling to combat wildlife crime.

Law enforcement officers will emerge from the DNA training better equipped with the necessary tools and knowledge to enable them to effectively counter the illegal wildlife trade. This includes specific investigative techniques and the increased use of wildlife forensics, which can be applied during follow-up actions that should be taken when seizures are made, crime scenes are investigated, information is gathered or in evidence presented to court.

The officials have been provided with focused training on the identification of rhino horn, horn DNA sampling and wildlife crime scene investigation. Participants were also educated in the utilisation of ICCWC (International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime) tools and services to enhance their wildlife crime investigation capabilities.