As South Africa battles threats against its natural heritage on numerous fronts across the country it has necessitated a change in approach and operational strategy from those tasked with protecting fauna and flora, particularly species under threat such as rhino and elephant.
This, Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said this week in support of World Ranger Day, has seen almost the entire South African ranger corps converted into anti-poaching units.
“They are well trained and supported by canine units, small air wings and relevant technology.
“Tactical information management ensures intelligent deployment of units,” she said, adding the same approach was being followed by private rhino owners with whom “close co-operation has become the norm”.
A week previously she told a Cape Town briefing that poachers killed 529 rhino in South Africa in the first six months of this year – 13 less than the corresponding period in 2016. As usual, the Kruger National Park is the “preferred” hunting site of poachers with 243 rhino carcasses found from January 1 to June 30. This is 43% down on the 354 found in the same period last year.
KwaZulu-Natal is now the second-most “popular” venue for rhino poachers with indications the rhino loss in the province could reach the 260 mark by year-end with 139 carcasses found to date this year. An example of the ease with which poachers come and go in the province came from the flagship Hluhluwe-Imfolozi game reserve which recently lost six rhino to poachers in a single night.
Molewa said the rhino conservation laboratory, a component of the national strategy to manage rhino in South Africa, had recommended changes to particularly the anti-poaching portion of the ranger training curriculum.
“They are being finalised and once implemented with improve the ability of rangers to deal with any situation that befalls them.”
On the work rangers to do protect South Africa’s natural heritage she said: “Rangers in certain parts of the country daily face many hardships in their efforts to protect our species, including elephant, rhino, cycad and abalone from unscrupulous poachers”.
“Our country’s natural beauty derived from our enormous biodiversity is a key income generator and is an important contributor to our economy through job creation and tourism.
“The actions of these brave men and women, who risk their lives daily, protect our natural world and our many species,” she said.