As long as rhino poaching is viewed as a conservation issue South Africa and the Kruger National Park in particular will have to be on high alert for those intent on killing rhino for their horn.
This stark warning was given to Gauteng Afrikaans daily Beeld by Dr Markus Hofmeyr, head of veterinary services in Kruger.
He said police and soldiers were not always effective in taking the fight to suspected poachers and warned the only way to bring impetus to anti-poaching operations was to ensure it was recognised as a high profile criminal act.
He also wants to see more resources coming to the battle to keep the estimated 15,000 rhino in South African safe. Hofmeyr was speaking during an operation that saw a young rhino darted, sedated and successfully moved to an area of high protection from where it was in a high risk one.
“There are sophisticated crime networks behind rhino poaching and acknowledging organised crime is involved should see more resources set aside for it. This will also have a spin-off on other criminal acts with them decreasing,” he told the paper.
Hofmeyr maintains Kruger remains the preferred target of poachers simply because it is home to a large number of rhino adding rhino were not completely safe anywhere but their chances of survival increased the further they were from the country’s borders.
Responsibility for the protection of Kruger’s estimated 8,000 rhino population falls in the first instance on the park’s ranger corps with police and soldiers assisting. He points to the arrest of 63 suspected poachers in the internationally renowned game reserve in the first four months of the year as an indication of the rangers’ dedication to duty.
Official figures released by the Department of Environment Affairs show South Africa lost 393 rhino to poachers in the first four months of the year. No further official kill figures have been released but one NGO said 595 rhino were killed by the end of June. Last year South Africa’s rhino population was cut by 1,214 animals.