Government has again acknowledged, in reply to a Parliamentary question, that rhino poaching is a priority crime but the lack of regular poaching data remains worrying, according to the official opposition.
Earlier this year Environment Affairs Minister Edna Molewa indicated her department was too busy to issue monthly statements on rhino poaching. She indicated it would be done on a quarterly basis which earned her the immediate ire of Terri Stander, the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow deputy minister of environment affairs.
The Port Elizabeth MP pointed out that rhino kill statistics had been issued on a monthly basis without any problems in the past.
“To properly monitor poaching, statistics and information needs to be collated on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. This should be happening anyway and, I believe, is being done by Kruger.”
The only rhino kill figure released this year by the Department of Environment Affairs was on January 22 and indicated 49 animals were killed for their horn.
Unofficial rhino kill statistics, collected by conservation non-government organisations, indicate about 240 kills between January 1 and April 1.
Police Minister Nathi Nhleko told DA MP Shahid Esau in a written reply that “the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI, also known as the Hawks) does regard serious organised wildlife crime within the ambit of its primary functions”.
As far as rhino poaching is concerned the Minister said: “SAPS has decided to declare the illegal killing of rhinos and the illegal trade in rhino horn as a priority crime and following a request from the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, elevated this to the National Joints Security Committee (NATJOINTS) in South Africa. This resulted in a national project, called ‘Operation Rhino’ being approved and a NATJOINTS Priority Committee to manage the project, being established and mandated to handle all rhino related investigations and cases.
“The agencies participating in the joint committee includes the SAPS; SANDF; National Intelligence Agency; SA Civil Aviation Authority; DEA; SANParks; South Africa Veterinary Council; the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries; the Department of Health (Medicines Control) and all other relevant co-opted stakeholders.”
defenceWeb last month reported unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were flying hundreds of missions to combat rhino poaching in the Kruger National Park as part of a 12 month long evaluation project. Results to date have been encouraging, South African company UAV and Drone Solutions (UDS) said.
The South African defence industry, via Denel and the Paramount Group, is also involved in combatting rhino poaching through UAVs, fixed and rotary-winged aircraft being deployed in Kruger to provide better intelligence on suspected poachers.
The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) has deployed army and air force personnel and equipment in the world famous game reserve. Their major tasking is border protection as part of Operation Corona but assistance is given, wherever possible, to the ranger corps.