Mistrust in police ranks, a shortage of proper intelligence structures and an easy exit through South Africa’s more than nine harbours are all stumbling blocks specialised police experience in the ongoing battle against rhino poaching.
This was how Colonel Johan Jooste, operational commander of the Hawks endangered species unit, outlined some issues facing his unit. He was addressing the 35th international conference of crime fighters in Cape Town this week, Netwerk24 reports.
Poaching, according to him and as reported by the news site, is different from conventional crime and is also used to hide other criminal acts such as money laundering or drug trafficking.
“There needs to be trust between law enforcement agencies if any progress is going to be made in lessening the number of rhino killed for their horn. We find instances where police are involved in rhino poaching syndicates,” he said, adding police detailed to anti- and counter-poaching should receive specialist training.
“This is because it is not conventional policing and people involved in the rhino horn supply chain are sophisticated.”
Earlier this month Terri Stander, the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party shadow deputy environmental affairs minister, said despite it being labelled a priority crime, rhino poaching was not being treated as such. Her statement was made following an oversight visit to the Kruger National Park, site of by far the majority of rhino killing in South Africa.
She said she had been told despite “large sums of money” spent on operations in intelligence networks there was a probability that at least some soldiers and police would be withdrawn from counter-poaching activities.
“It would be irresponsible to withdraw any resource currently working on stopping the scourge of rhino poaching,” she said.
Environment Affairs deputy director general, Fundisile Mketeni, told the Cape Town conference a long process saw rhino horn delivered to consumers, generally in Far Eastern countries.
Knowledgeable hunters in South Africa are recruited by buyers of rhino horn. They are also responsible for removing the horn and taking it to the next person in the chain, usually someone responsible for transport.
“It can be someone who knows the area well and can also be either a policeman or a traffic officer,” he said, adding the horn was stored or taken to places such as harbours for illegal export.
The Kruger National Park has this year lost 503 rhinos to poachers out of a national total of 787.