Rangers in the Kruger National Park (KNP) have been involved in two contacts with suspected poachers, leaving one poacher fatally injured, while Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa has honoured rangers and others in the fight against poaching at the annual Rhino Conservation Awards.
South African National Parks (SANParks) said the two contacts took place over the weekend in the southern part of the Kruger National Park near the Mkhuhlu and Cork areas. On Friday, Rangers came into contact with two suspected poachers where one of them was fatally wounded and the other one fled the scene.
On Sunday four suspects were spotted in the vicinity of Sabie River. Rangers were unable to apprehend the suspects, who managed to flee across the Sabie River, SANParks said.
“Both cases were reported to the Police and they are being investigated at the moment.”
Meanwhile, on 21 August Minister Molewa presided over the Rhino Conservation Awards, held at Montecasino, which celebrated winners, runners up and nominees who have made a marked impact in the war against rhino poaching.
In the Field Ranger category, Tyson Maluleke and his canine Kilalo, and Julius Sibuyi were announced as the winners, whilst Wilson Siwela was rewarded as the runner up. Maluleke and Kilalo are an anti-poaching tracking team who have helped ranger teams in making many arrests in their area of operation.
The winner of the Conservation Practitioner Award was the entire Kruger National Park’s Marula South ranger team. These rangers are responsible for the conservation and protection of the majority of the continent’s rhino population. The runners up were the Namibian Conservancy Rhino Ranger Incentive Programme, and SANParks’ Regional Ranger Don English and Section Ranger Craig Williams.
Adam Pires and the EWT Wildlife in Trade Programme scooped the Award for the Best Rhino Conservation Supporter. Pires and his team provide unique skillsets to enforcement agencies, increasing awareness within the judicial system and undertaking research and monitoring activities which target multiple contact points along the supply chain. Richard Mabanga, cultural ambassador for the Rhino Art – Let the Voices be Heard campaign, and husband and wife team, Steve and Perry Dell from the Pilanesberg Wildlife Trust and the Rhino Poaching Unit were selected as runners up.
For the first time, the Awards offered a Special Award for Endangered Species Conservation. African Parks took first prize, Chris Kelly came second and Miguel Xavier from Angola placed third. African Parks takes on the complete responsibility for the rehabilitation and long-term management of national parks across Africa, in partnership with governments and local communities. It is responsible for one of the largest and most significant elephant translocations in history and has restored species across Africa, including rhino to Rwanda and cheetah to Malawi.
“The men and women whose efforts we are acknowledging here today have played an instrumental role in combatting poaching in our country, and it is our responsibility to support them in any way we can,” Minister Molewa said during the awards ceremony.
“The loss of our rangers to the bullets of criminals is a stark reminder of the severity of the threat posed by the transitional illicit wildlife trade. Our abundant biodiversity has made us a target for unscrupulous gangs with little regard for the long-term consequences of their actions. Luckily for us, for every criminal syndicate lacking in conscience, we have men and women with deep and abundant love for this country and its heritage.”
Molewa said regarding the commercial trade in rhino horn, South Africa is committed to a well-regulated process that manages the trade in endangered species such as rhino in line with domestic legislation as well as all CITES provisions.
A set of draft regulatory measures focussing primarily on the domestic trade has been released for public comment, but this also includes provisions relating to the export of rhino horn for non-commercial purposes.
The Department of Environmental Affairs is developing an electronic database that will capture details on all individual rhino horns in private and government-owned stockpiles as well as all newly acquired horns. This is vital to prevent the smuggling of illegally-obtained horn out of the country, Molewa said.
The number of poached rhinos in South Africa fell by 13 to 529 between January and June compared with 2016, a trend welcomed with “cautious optimism” by the government in July. Numbers surged from 83 in 2008 to a record 1 215 in 2014 to meet burgeoning demand in newly affluent countries such as Vietnam, where the horns are used as status symbols and believed to contain aphrodisiac properties.
In the Kruger National Park, 354 rhinos were poached in 2016 compared to 243 in 2017 and inside the park 90 poachers have been arrested this year.
Although much of the anti-poaching focus is on rhinos, elephant poaching is on the rise in the Kruger National Park, increasing from 22 in 2016 to 30 in 2017, SANParks said on Monday.
The South African Police Service said it had last week arrested five men, including a police officer, in two separate incidents and recovered evidence related to poaching, including a dozen riles and ten rhino horns.