No less than 21 people in the South Africa law enforcement sector were arrested for poaching related offences last year, Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said.
She told a briefing in Pretoria that South Africa last year experienced “a minor decrease” in the number of rhinos killed for their horns. A thousand and twenty-eight rhinos were poached between January 1 and December 31, 2017, compared to 1 054 in 2016.
The Kruger National Park, which traditionally bears the brunt of poaching, lost 504 rhinos in the 2017 calendar year. This is 24% down on the 2016 figure of 662.
On the credit side she told the briefing the anti-poaching strategy in the iconic wildlife reserve was bearing fruit with a decrease in poaching activities down to 2 662 last year from 2 883 in 2016.
“While there has been a decrease in rhino killed for horn in Kruger, the number of rhino poached in KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Cape, Mpumalanga, Free State and North West increased.
“It is with concern I report that in 2017, 67 elephants were poached in Kruger and one was poached in KwaZulu-Natal. Specific risk areas have been identified and strategies to address the threat are being adapted and implemented,” Molewa said.
She used the prefix “regrettably” to tell the briefing 21 arrests were made for poaching related offences from own personnel, which includes police, soldiers and rangers.
Part of the effort to put a stop to this was SANParks’ integrity testing programme. It is being implemented across the national conservation agency to support ongoing anti-poaching efforts.
Last year saw 502 alleged rhino poachers and 16 alleged traffickers arrested nationally. The total of 518 is down on the 2016 figure of 680 alleged poachers and traffickers arrested.
Four hundred and forty-six suspects were arrested in and around Kruger in connection with various poaching crimes with 189 caught inside the game reserve.
Molewa acknowledged the work of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in ensuring that all cases involving poaching make it to trial and are successfully prosecuted.
“The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations (DPCI), also known as the Hawks, working in close cooperation with other government departments, has done sterling work since January 2017.
“The Hawks have determined that there are a number of new trends linked to rhino poaching in South Africa. Smugglers are coming up with new ways and methods to process horn and smuggle it out of the country,” the Minister said.
Between 1 April and 31 December 2017, the Hawks arrested 16 level three to four (courier/local buyers and exporters) wildlife traffickers of South-East Asian, South African, Mozambican, Zimbabwean and Kenyan origin. About 168.46kg of rhino horn were also confiscated.
“Given the complexities of these syndicates, we regard this figure as a significant achievement,” the Minister said.
Last year saw an awareness raising exercise on the illicit trans-border movement of wildlife and wildlife products presented to the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) for the first time.
“This initiative will be further rolled out this year in KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and North West. This is part of continued efforts to build capacity to tackle the illegal wildlife trade along our borders,” Molewa said.
Ports of entry and exit
The department’s Environmental Management Inspectors (EMIs), or Green Scorpions, continue with their work at OR Tambo International Airport, working with the South African Revenue Service (SARS) and South African Police Service (SAPS).
During 2017 there were eight seizures of rhino horn at OR Tambo International Airport.
The first case of 2018 involves the arrest of a South-East Asian national, who was hiding three rhino horn pieces (approximately 4kg) in a wine box. The woman has been charged with illegal possession of rhino horn and exporting without a CITES permit. She has been granted bail of R150 000 and the case has been postponed to mid-February 2018.
“The Green Scorpions also play an important role in court proceedings where they regularly testify in aggravation of sentence in rhino related cases,” Minister Molewa said.
Managing rhino populations
Molewa said SANParks continues to translocate rhino away from high risk poaching areas. Translocation of rhino has been an effective tool in enhancing the safety of animals, encouraging population growth and expanding rhino range.
“Following a request to the South African government by the government of Chad, a team of South African experts visited Chad to conduct due diligence. They assessed habitat, security and management suitability and associated ecological parameters as well as infrastructural readiness prior to the translocation of black rhinos.
“[A] translocation of a small group of black rhino to the Zakouma National Park in Chad [is planned for] later this year. This is in terms of the MOU signed between South Africa and Chad in October 2017. The African Rhino Range States Conservation Plan signed in October 2016 encourages, amongst other things, regional cooperation in rhino conservation,” Molewa said.
Chad has excelled in its anti-poaching activities and has only lost two elephants to poachers since 2010.
“This translocation will serve as an example of cooperation between Environmental Affairs and SANParks, the government of Chad and African Parks, which manages national parks in that country,” Minister Molewa said.
In total, five percent of South Africa’s rhino population was killed last year. South Africa has more than 80 percent of the world’s estimated population of just 25 000 rhino.
“The increases in other provinces, coupled with the sharp rise in elephant poaching, tell us that as we progress and evolve, so do the tactics and methods of the poachers,” the Environmental Affairs ministry said.
Tom Milliken, Rhino Programme Leader at the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, noted almost three rhinos were still being killed in South Africa every day.
Last August, South Africa allowed its first legal auction of rhino horns after the owner of the world’s biggest private rhino herd won a court case against the government.
Although global trade in rhino horn is banned, conservationists have expressed concerns that domestic buyers could supply Asian markets illicitly.