The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) has bulked up security at South Africa’s points of entry to ensure the protection of big cats and other wildlife.
To mark World Wildlife Day on 3 March, the department deployed South African Revenue Service (SARS) K9 sniffer dogs to OR Tambo International Airport to detect attempts to smuggle wildlife into the country.
In addition to this, the department’s Environmental Management Inspectors (EMIs), also known as the Green Scorpions, inspected a consignment of birds for export from South Africa to ensure that the consignment has met all legal requirements.
“These are just two of the actions taken daily at points of entry and exit to ensure that smuggling of wildlife is halted and that our natural world is protected.
“About 300 legal wildlife-related consignments are exported and imported on a monthly basis at this airport and our EMIs inspected and endorsed approximately 4 200 CITES [Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora] permits during 2017,” said the department’s Director General Ishaam Abader.
Guided by this year’s theme, ‘Big cats: predators under threat’, lions, leopards and cheetahs are the focus of protection and conservation efforts.
To combat the illegal trade of these animals, a range of measures have been introduced in South Africa to ensure that cat populations are conserved and properly managed.
“This includes the implementation of a Biodiversity Management Plan for the African Lion. The Scientific Authority of South Africa conducted a Non-Detriment Finding (NDF), as required by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The final NDF was published for implementation on 23 January 2018,” said Abader.
According to the NDF, for lions, there are at present no major threats to the wild and managed lion populations within South Africa, although the management of reintroduced wild lion needs some improvement.
Minor, but non-detrimental, threats include over-utilisation, disease, poaching and conflict with communities around protected areas.
Law enforcement collaboration yields fruit
While the focus may be on big cats this year, Wildlife Day also takes stock of the efforts of law enforcement officials to prevent wildlife crimes.
The declaration of wildlife crime as a priority crime in South Africa resulted in the joint collaboration of the National Prosecuting Authority, the police and institutions such as the Airports Company of South Africa.
The Green Scorpions assist SARS and SAPS with cases where illegally traded rhino horn have been detected.
Since August 2016, this collaboration resulted in the seizure of 11 rhino horn at OR Tambo.
The first case at ORTIA of 2018 recently involved the arrest of a Chinese woman in early January hiding thee rhino horn pieces of approximately 4kg in a wine box.
“The increase in detections of rhino horn at ORTIA are a tribute to the hard work and collaborative approach involving airport security, SARS, the Green Scorpions, and the police,” said Abader.
Partnerships to combat wildlife crimes
The DEA is currently working with WWF-SA on a project to increase its ability to tackle wildlife trafficking in South Africa.
“This project, funded by a grant from the US Department of State’s Bureau of International & Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), focuses on the development of further training materials to bolster our national compliance and enforcement programme,” said Abader.
The training materials include an e-learning platform for officials, audio visual materials, specific curriculum and manuals, which assist law enforcement agencies to effectively detect the smuggling of wildlife.