South African National Parks (SANParks), the national parks authority, has “urgently requested” that the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) be brought in to help stop rhino poaching, defence minister Lindiwe Sisulu says, a move that may see the expansion of the military’s border security mandate and an early returnto the Kruger National Park (KNP).
“Rhino poaching is a crime we will have to stop immediately, it is cruel and brutal, SANParks has requested us to assist urgently,” she said in a statement. “The SANDF has some of the best air to land equipment to perform this function. Denel [the state arsenal] also boasts some of the best air equipment that can help us to stop the poaching. We are working on this matter, it is urgent,” she added.
Sisulu said the SANDF was finalising the details to ensure that it would be ready to help, but without adding detail. At least 210 rhinos have been killed for their horns since the beginning of this year — up from a total of 122 poached last year and around 10 killed in national parks in 2007, the latest this last Saturday. A poacher was also shot, arrested and hospitalised. More than 20 people have been arrested countrywide in separate cases involving rhino poaching since September.
President Jacob Zuma and Cabinet last month expressed concern about rhino poaching in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park that includes the KNP. Then-Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs Buyelwa Sonjica told a Rhino Summit in Pretoria earlier in October South Africa had a population of about 19 000 white rhino and 1750 black rhino. “The rhino population in South Africa is being threatened by an upsurge in illegal killing and the leakage of illegally obtained rhino horn into the international illegal trade,” Sonjica said.
The SA Army currently has four companies deployed along sections of the Zimbabwe and Mozambican borders, operating from Pontdrift and Musina in Limpopo, Macadamia in Mpumalanga and Ndumo in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). Next April two more companies are scheduled to join this force and deploy to Skukuza – in the KNP- and Piet Retief, both in Mpumalanga. In April 2012 three more companies will step up state control of a notoriously porous eastern border by deploying to Phalaborwa, Zonstraal and Pongola. Two tactical headquarters will also deploy with them: one along the Zimbabwe border and another along the Mpumalanga line.
Rhino horns can reportedly fetch up to R429 000 a kilogram on the black market. A horn weighs about 8kg. Black-market demand for rhino horn continues to soar, particularly in China and Vietnam, due largely to the economic boom in Asia. The biggest trade centre is reportedly Vietnam, where a cabinet minister recently claimed that a rhino horn concoction cured his cancer. But scientists say that the horns are compacted keratin, the same substance human fingernails and hair is made from and have no medicinal properties.
KNP officials in August said Special Forces with night vision equipment had assisted them and the police in some arrests. Thales Defence Systems officials have told defenceWeb they have demonstrated some of their thermal imaging technology in the KNP.