Rhino kill in 2015 slightly down, Minister says poaching has “stabilised”


Last year South Africa lost 1,175 rhino to poachers – 40 less than 2014’s all-time high of 1,215 – which Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa this week said was the first decrease in a decade.

Speaking in Pretoria she said the slight decrease in rhino poaching signalled “stabilisation” in the national rhino poaching situation.

As always, the Kruger National Park remains the favoured target for poachers because of its size and that it borders Mozambique and Zimbabwe. The iconic game reserve last year lost 826 rhino which, Molewa said, indicated an “about 10% increase ” in poaching activity in Kruger.

She also pointed out the by-now common year-end spike in rhino poaching did not happen in December attributing this to the efforts of “our people, particularly our law enforcement agencies”.

Last year saw 317 suspects arrested in connection with rhino poaching well up from 2014’s 258. Two hundred and two suspects were arrested in Kruger.

Molewa said the end of last year saw “a remarkable achievement” in the national plan to curb rhino poaching.
“All rhino poaching crime scenes in Kruger were attended to in accordance with standard protocols. Considering the backlogs faced in 2014 this is a remarkable achievement. It is due to the sterling efforts of SA Police Service and SANParks forensic investigators, as well as a significant training effort to build capacity, that crime scenes are now properly processed.”

Funding of US42,7 million from the GEF-UNEP Rhino Programme last year saw a number of forensic mobile crime scene units acquired. These, the Minister maintains, will be “particularly useful” in outlying areas.

Plans to extensively test and evaluate UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) or RPAs, remotely piloted aircraft as the SA Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) prefers to call them, in Kruger last year had to be put on hold. The park’s media specialist Ike Phaahla said: “Testing of UAVs was halted due to aviation regulations”.
“The Peace Parks Foundation, which is funding the mission, then embarked on a plan to comply with the new aviation regulations. The company responsible for the tests was granted a licence to fly in September. Resumption of test flying will begin in earnest this year.
“Not much flying was done and as yet there is insufficient information for any conclusive report on the performance and impact of UAVs on rhino poaching,” he said.