The priority crime rating rhino poaching has been given is an indication of the seriousness government attaches to it. Sadly when it comes to action, both on the ground and diplomatically, the same cannot be said.
Latest kill statistics released by the Department of Environment Affairs show South Africa lost 277 rhinos to poachers this year – this translates into a kill rate of 2.79 animals a day. Statistics for the first three months of the year indicated a kill rate of about 2.5 animals a day.
On the diplomatic front, Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa and her Mozambican counterpart, Tourism Minister Carvalho Muaria, will next week sign a long-awaited memorandum of understanding (MOU) covering biodiversity, conservation and wildlife management.
The first steps on the road to making the memorandum reality happened last June when Molewa visited Maputo to discuss conservation issues, including rhino poaching.
“Mozambique is regarded as a priority country for South Africa within the SADC region and South Africa recognises the need to engage with Mozambique on wildlife management. This is particularly with respect to addressing the scourge of rhino poaching in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park (GLTP), as escalating incidences of poaching have become a major challenge in the GLTP to rhino populations,” a statement issued this week by her spokesman Albi Modise said.
This follows a statement after the June meeting that said “a government to government MOU on co-operation in the field of biodiversity, conservation and management was required to assist in addressing wildlife crimes, including rhino poaching”.
While details of the MOU are not known, one of the submissions by SANParks for inclusion dealt with the possibility of hot pursuit across the international border between the two countries as a further method of minimising the number of rhinos lost. The proposal was made by retired Army general Johan Jooste, Commanding Officer: Special Projects for the national conservation organisation.
The rhino population of the Kruger National Park remains the number one target for poachers, the majority of them from Mozambique. As of Wednesday this week, Kruger has lost 166 of the 277 rhinos killed nationally. It has also recorded the single highest number of arrests – 32 out of a national total of 86 – in connection with poaching.