The change to properly planned military-type operations against rhino poachers in the Kruger National Park is paying dividends – nine months after a retired SA Army general was appointed to head up and co-ordinate SANParks’ anti-poaching activities.
Evidence of this comes with the arrest of no less than 24 people allegedly involved in rhino poaching in Kruger over the past 14 days.
“While we are still losing animals (latest statistics show Kruger has lost 381 rhinos to date this year) the new strategy is bearing fruit,” SANParks acting head of communications, Reynold Thakhuli, said.
The two dozen arrests bring to 73 the number of rhino poaching related arrests in the park this year, exactly the same as was recorded for the whole of last year and just nine short of the park’s highest arrest level in the last four years.
Nationally, 191 suspects have been arrested in connection with rhino poaching so far this year.
“The increased and more military orientated operations and patrols against rhino poachers are paying off particularly in identified hot-spots. This has seen a decrease in the number of potential poachers in areas such as Tshokwane, Letaba and Stoltz Nek going to the park’s eastern (Mozambique) boundary,” Thakhuli said.
He also pointed to a better relationship with Mozambique following an official visit there by Environment Affairs Minister Edna Molewa.
“Some arrests have been made inside Mozambique in terms of the hot pursuit concept now that there is more understanding of the problem not only Kruger and SANParks, but also South Africa and the region, faces from rhino poachers,” Thakhuli added.
The hot pursuit strategy was presented to SANParks management at the beginning of last month after Molewa’s visit to Mozambique by Major General (ret) Johan Jooste, Officer Commanding Special Projects in Kruger. It makes provision for rangers, soldiers and other government agencies to track suspected poachers across the border without fear of reprisal.
Bearing out Thakhuli’s “still losing animals” statement, the national rhino herd now is 618 less than it was on January 1. This is 50 less than were killed for their horn in 2012 and with 15 weeks left in the year the 668 all-time high looks sure to be overtaken.
The current weekly loss of rhino stands close to 17 animals. If poaching continues at the same kill levels the year-end death toll could surpass the thousand mark.
The South African defence sector is a contributor to the ongoing anti-rhino poaching effort via the SA Air Force, SA Army and the defence industry.
Land-based elements are deployed primarily on border protection duties and assisted by SAAF helicopters for Operation Corona but also regularly assist rangers, police and other government agencies in anti-poaching operations.
Denel Dynamics has made a Seeker UAV available, manned by trained personnel, to help with tracking poaching suspects. A Seabird Seeker reconnaissance aircraft donated by the Paramount Group adds more eyes in the sky to the ongoing Operation Rhino.