Rhino poaching continued unabated last year with the national herd depleted by 668 – 220 more than in 2011.
The high kill rate of this Big Five species is solely attributed to poaching syndicates, which sell the horn for prices in excess of US$60 000 (about R620 000) a kilogramme in the Far East, with Vietnam the single largest market. It is used in traditional medicine and is also increasingly being touted as a hangover cure among the young and wealthy.
Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa expressed grave concern about the high rate of rhino poaching. At the same time she reiterated government’s “unwavering commitment” to stopping the continued carnage.
The Kruger National Park remains the single biggest target area for poachers, losing 425 rhinos last year. As it abuts both the Mozambican and Zimbabwean borders, poachers generally have easy access to their prey despite the presence of soldiers, rangers and an increased aerial surveillance capacity.
Five rhinos have already been killed by poachers in the first two weeks of this year, with Kruger reporting three kills in two separate incidents.
The park’s chief executive Abe Sibaya admitted it was not a good start to the year for anti-poaching forces, but was confident measures put in place late last year would assist materially in cutting down on the number of rhinos killed in Kruger. These include bringing in a retired army two star general to head up anti-poaching operations across all national parks, as well as making increased use of aerial surveillance. A Denel Seeker UAV has been deployed in Kruger and it, alongside a Paramount Group donated Seabird Seeker, is at the forefront of the aerial surveillance effort alongside the park’s own rotary and fixed wing aircraft.
On the positive side Molewa said the number of arrests in connection with rhino poaching has been steadily increasing. Last year’s 267 arrests is more than double the number of suspects arrested in 2010 and 35 up on last year’s figure.
On-the-ground interventions in terms of Operation Rhino, a National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (Natjoints) effort driven by the South African National Defence Force, South African Police Service, SANParks and other roleplayers including the SA Revenue Services, has been backed by other government initiatives.
These include the appointment of former SANParks chief executive Mavuso Msimang as rhino issue manager and the signing of a memorandum of understanding with Vietnam on biodiversity conservation. Trophy hunting standards for rhino were also tightened to close loopholes that could be exploited by unscrupulous hunters.