Rangers and others involved in the national effort to stop rhino poaching have a new spring in their step thanks to the generosity of American philanthropist Howard Buffet.
He has boosted the budget for anti-poaching activities in the Kruger National Park by a massive R225 million over the next three years.
The donation was announced on Friday at the same time as the Department of Environment Affairs released its newest rhino poaching statistics. While slightly down on the year’s earlier rhino death statistics, South Africa is still losing more than two rhinos a day to poachers.
A hundred and seventy-two rhinos were killed in the first 73 days of the year with by far the majority of them – 113 – in Kruger. Given the increase in anti-poaching operations in the iconic game reserve it is not surprising that Kruger also reports the highest number of arrests – 24 out of a total of 54 to date this year.
SANParks’ Reynold Thakhuli said the “welcome” extra funding would go to creating an intensive protection zone (IPZ) incorporating sophisticated detection and tracking equipment and infrastructure on the ground and in the air; elite canine units and highly-trained ranger teams and improved intelligence gathering and observation and surveillance systems.
Apart from combatting rhino poaching the Buffet funding will also test anti-poaching tactics that can be applied in other parts of Africa where rhinos are under threat.
“The scale, complexity, and strategic value of this initiative is truly unprecedented for SANParks and we believe will be transformative in our ongoing efforts to address poaching and the decimation of the rhino population in Kruger. More importantly, the lessons we hope to learn and share across SANParks and the continent will, we believe, develop new and more effective ways to combat illicit wildlife trade, particularly where it is financing armed groups,” SANParks chief executive David Mabunda said of the generous donation.
Speaking at the funding announcement, Environment Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said the illicit wildlife trade was the fourth largest syndicated criminal activity in the world after drug and human trafficking and arms smuggling.
Making poaching that much more attractive to particularly the poor, who are generally used as shooters and initial transporters of rhino horn, is that rhino horn is arguably one of the most expensive commodities on earth today. It is reportedly being sold at around US$70 000 per kg in some Far Eastern countries.
Molewa said anti-poaching efforts in Kruger have been boosted by soldiers, who in addition to their border protection duties, assist the Kruger ranger corps with the tracking and apprehension of suspected poachers.
The establishment of the Lowveld Lebombo Environmental Asset Protection Alliance (LLEAPA) consisting of SANParks, the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), the SA Police Service and the governments of Mozambique and South Africa will add further impetus to the anti-poaching effort.
The South African defence industry, via State-owned Denel and the private sector Paramount Group, is also active in the fight to stop rhino poaching. A Denel UAV and a light reconnaissance aircraft as well as a helicopter from Paramount are providing improved intelligence and surveillance for ground-based anti-poaching teams in Kruger.