The massive injection of funds into South Africa’s national anti- rhino poaching effort in March does not yet appear to have filtered through to those in the forefront of combatting the illegal and exceptionally lucrative trade in the horn of this Big Five species.
The latest statistics on rhino poaching released by Minister Edna Molewa’s Department of Environment Affairs show South Africa is getting precariously close to losing three rhino a day to poacher’s high-powered rifles.
Four hundred and forty-two rhino have to date this year been killed. This equates to just over 2,8 animals a day.
If this rate of killing continues South Africa’s rhino population will decrease by another 585 animals at year end, giving an annual loss of 1 027 – 23 more than were killed by poachers for their horn last year.
The iconic Kruger National Park remains the favoured target of rhino poachers with 293 rhino killed there so far this year. This is more than half the national kill.
Last year, 343 suspects were arrested in connection with rhino poaching and this year’s figure to date stands at 123. On a month by month basis this is four arrests less than in 2013 the heightened presence of rangers, soldiers, other law enforcement agencies and high-tech equipment made available for anti-poaching operations by, among others, Denel Dynamics and the Paramount Group.
In March American philanthropist Howard Buffet donated R225 million to be used in improving anti-poaching operations in Kruger over the next three years. At the time of publication no announcement on how this money would be utilised had been made by the national conservation agency, SANParks, which manages Kruger and 18 other national parks.
In response to what it called “mischievous” reports regarding the legalising of trade in rhino horn Environment Affairs spokesman, Albi Modise said: “Poaching remains the biggest threat to South Africa’s rhino and our successful conservation track record.
“Addressing this scourge is not simple and there is no single solution. South Africa believes that the decision to table a proposal at the next CITES Conference of the Parties in 2016 is timeous and may be a step towards addressing a scourge decimating one of our iconic Big Five species. South Africa is not in any way insinuating that possible trade in rhino horn would be a panacea to the problem of poaching.”
South Africa and Mozambique earlier this year entered into a memorandum of understanding on conservation issues, including rhino poaching but further discussions will clarify whether the agreement will include a hot pursuit clause.
This was first put to SANParks management by retired SA Army general Johan Jooste, now commanding officer, special projects for the national conservation agency, as another way of cutting regular incursions of rhino poachers from Mozambique.