In just over three weeks South Africa will the conference of the parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) with unofficial statistic showing the country has lost more than 620 rhino to poacher in the seven months of the year.
Minister Edna Molewa’s Department of Environmental Affairs does not release monthly kill and arrest statistics in connection with rhino poaching. This has been criticised by some in conservation circles whole others maintain publication of rhino kill figures has not affected counter-poaching efforts and initiatives.
Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) chief executive Yolan Friedman said focussing on effective strategies was needed more than statistics.
“Everyone involved has to work together if the ware on rhino poaching is to be won,” she said adding it was, in environmental terms “a significant problem”.
“Efforts should all be on how collaboration can be employed to create a stronger and more unified front against the criminal elements threatening the future of our wildlife.
“One can always say government should allocate more resources and do more to train and empower conservation and law enforcement agencies, enable and support community development in high risk areas and possibly look at measures such as increasing penalties for wildlife crime but the EWT believes the focus should rather be drawn to what is being done and how we can strengthen that rather than go on about what is not being done.
“Many government employees, including rangers, magistrates, policemen and women and so on, are pouring their lives into this struggle and often, even risking them. They need our support and we believe that given this, they will only do better.
Starting on September 25 the CITES conference will look in-depth at poaching of species such as rhino, elephant and pangolin with the Global Initiative against Transnational Crimes. Possible disappearance of species has been mentioned for discussion.
In South African rhino poaching remains the most rampant form of wildlife trafficking with rhino horn being sold in Vietnam at $50 000 a kilogramme but official statistics on rhino killing remain few and far between. The last official rhino kill figures released by the Department of Environmental Affairs was early in May and showed a national loss of 363 rhino, compared to 404 for the same period last year.
The Peace Parks Foundation (PPF) is also active in the anti-rhino poaching sector and says it in latest annual report “because South Africa is home to 79% of Africa’s wild rhino, PPF has been working closely with the South African government and its conservation management authorities, SANParks and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, to initiate detailed projects as part of the multifaceted Rhino Protection Programme.
“An agreement between the government of Mozambique, the Joaquim Chissano Foundation and the Foundation was signed in October 2014. The aim of this agreement is to strengthen Mozambique’s efforts to combat wildlife crime by supporting development of dedicated anti-poaching operations in and around Limpopo National Park, an integral component of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park and Conservation Area. An essential element of the project entails supporting the judicial system in Mozambique to effectively implement the new Conservation Areas Act that will bring about stiffer penalties for anyone involved in illicit wildlife-product trafficking.”
On the technology front the Foundation has been working closely with the CSIR and SANParks to research and test an innovative and customised radar surveillance and detection system. Various unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) projects were also tested. A UAV team was deployed in Kruger National Park, while another UAV team supported Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife operations. The CSIR provided an independent analysis of UAV technology.