The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has emphasised the support it gives South African National Parks (SANParks) in the fight against poaching, and says it has reduced the number of poaching incursions from Mozambique.
The SANDF has been in the Kruger National Park (KNP) since 2010 primarily on Operation Corona border safeguarding duties. SANDF Lieutenant Colonel Elaine van Staden on Tuesday told the media that cooperation between SANParks and the SANDF has improved, and this is one of the reasons for a reduction in poaching. “We have seen the decline of successful rhino poaching in the park,” she said.
“We get into close contact with destabilisers and they work together with the dog unit, rangers, and police,” she said, adding that only specialist military units were deployed in the KNP, on a six-month rotation.
“We have normal infantry troops deployed, and in the Kruger Park specifically we have paratroopers that are deployed here because they also have the special training in terms of pathfinding, in terms of tracking spoors. And then we also have our battlefield capability.”
Joint efforts between SANParks and the SANDF have seen decreased poaching activity on the border with Mozambique, where 11% of elephant poachers originate from. KNP mission area manager Mbongeni Tukela said that 60% of incursions into Kruger now originated in South Africa, with 11% through Mozambique’s Parque Nacional do Limpopo (PNL) and 29% through Mozambican conservancies. There have been some 3 700 incursions into the Kruger National Park this year.
“A lot of the operational needs fed into the development of new policy and legislation in Mozambique; incursions have moved to the South African side,” said Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park International Coordinator Piet Theron.
The SANDF on 22 August hosted a demonstration showing how they would track down and apprehend poachers using a reaction unit comprising SANParks’ dog unit, field rangers and South African Army soldiers.
In 2016, 30 elephants were poached in the Kruger National Park and 662 rhinos were killed for their horns. This compares to 826 rhinos and 20 elephants killed in 2015.
Nationally, the number of poached rhinos in South Africa fell by 13 to 529 between January and June this year compared with 2016. Numbers surged from 83 in 2008 to a record 1 215 in 2014 to meet burgeoning demand in newly affluent countries such as Vietnam, where the horns are used as status symbols and believed to contain aphrodisiac properties.