Twelve suspected rhino poachers have been arrested in the Kruger National Park in the last week, South African National Parks has announced.
On Friday 20 April, Kruger National Park (KNP) Rangers arrested three suspects in possession of a heavy calibre hunting rifle, ammunition, poaching equipment and a fresh set of rhino horns. One of the suspects has since been identified as a recently retired Frelimo Commander who was in full camouflage uniform when arrested.
21 April brought another successful apprehension, of three suspected rhino poachers after rangers along with the K9 team tracked the group for a whole day. A heavy calibre hunting rifle, ammunition and poaching equipment was seized. On the same day rangers also managed to arrest two additional suspects, unfortunately one suspected poacher was fatally wounded in the armed engagement, SANParks said.
On 22 April, Rangers, after detecting poacher activity, conducted follow up operations and made contact with two suspected poachers. One of the suspects was fatally wounded during the contact and the other one was wounded and arrested. A heavy calibre hunting rifle, ammunition, poaching equipment and two fresh rhino horns were recovered at the scene. Almost at the same time, rangers made contact with a group of three suspected poachers. In the ensuing armed engagement, one suspect was fatally wounded and the other two managed to escape. A hunting rifle, poaching equipment and ammunition were recovered at the scene.
To crown the successful six days, a South African Police Service (SAPS) member based at the Skukuza Police Station was also arrested on suspicion of being involved in rhino poaching and is currently in custody.
Reacting to these arrests, the Managing Executive of the KNP Glenn Phillips said it is incredibly encouraging to know that dedicated teams of Rangers continue to disrupt suspected poaching activities. “We need to match the efforts of these gallant men and women in uniform outside of our parks if we are to make serious inroads against the criminal syndicates. Along with this, communities need to work with us in supplying information as young people are losing their freedom and lives because of the greed of a few highly corrupt and connected criminals,” he said.
Rhino poaching in the Kruger National Park has declined, but elephant poaching is on the rise. SANParks said last week that 504 rhinos and 67 elephants were killed due to poaching in the KNP in 2017, indicating the rhino poaching rate has declined by 20% – in 2016, 662 rhinos were killed and 46 elephants slaughtered. The statistics were even worse in 2015 when 826 rhinos were killed in the KNP.
There were 281 arrests made in 2016 while there were 139 in 2017.
Head ranger at the Kruger National Park Ken Maggs noted the drop in rhino poaching has been offset by an increase in elephant poaching. “And that’s concerning because one elephant poached is too many, although we’ve many elephants.”
“As an organisation, together with the military, we’re on top of that rhino and elephant poaching. The highest number that we lost was in 1981 where we lost in the region of about 100 elephants.”
“Due to joint operations between the park, SAPS and the SANDF, with the help of community members, more arrests have been made outside than inside the park for the first time,” Maggs said.
Last week Glenn Phillips, the managing executive of the KNP, said the park was about to finalise its ten-year management plan. This looks at growing the wilderness area in the park, and addressing population concerns on the borders of the park – there are two million people living next to the KNP, with an unemployment rate of at least 50% – this makes poaching one of the few ways for those in the area to make a living.