Just three years ago it took poachers 12 months to kill 448 rhino. With seven months of this year gone the death toll stands at 110 more than that.
If the current kill rate is maintained by poachers South Africa will lose 1 066 rhino by December 31 – 62 more than last year’s all time high of 1 004.
While poaching continues apparently unabated, arrests in connection with rhino poaching are also on the increase according to the Department of Environment Affairs. To date this year 157 arrests have been made, close to half the arrests made the whole of last year.
Also on the positive side the sentencing of two Mozambicans to 16 years behind bars for poaching a white rhino in the Kruger National Park last year should send a message that “rhino poaching doesn’t pay” according to SANParks acting chief executive Abe Sibaya.
He was speaking following the sentencing of Ephraim Bila and Ndombama Salvatore Nkuna in the Nelspruit Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday.
“The lengthy jail terms handed down are just reward for the hard work put in by the Kruger ranger corps, SANParks environmental crime investigative unit and the police.
“This sentence will certainly make potential poachers think twice before crossing the fence to plunder our natural heritage. It will also boost the morale of all men and women in uniform who are in the trenches fighting the scourge of rhino poaching,” he said.
Kruger has lost 351 rhino to poachers so far this year with 60 arrests made in the iconic game reserve and Sibaya is adamant the national conservation agency will not give up in the fight to save the rhino.
“We are resolute in our determination to win this war that is being waged by greedy individuals. These assets belong to the South African people and we are prepared to ensure their future existence as mandated,” Sibaya said.
The South African defence industry, via Denel and the Paramount Group, are active players in the anti-rhino poaching field. A Denel Seeker UAV is deployed in Kruger to provide extra eyes in the sky particularly during the hours of darkness and Paramount has made a light reconnaissance aircraft available to boost the aerial patrolling capabilities of Kruger’s own fleet or fixed and rotary-wing aircraft.
SA Army soldiers deployed in Kruger on Operation Corona, the national border protection tasking, have a secondary role assisting rangers and other law enforcement agencies with preventing rhino poaching and apprehension of suspects.