Rhino poaching in South Africa’s flagship national park – Kruger – is at almost epidemic proportions but other parks also have their work cut out preventing the illegal removal of natural assets.
One of these is the Addo Elephant National Park in Eastern Cape. Expansion has seen the park grow from purely land-based to where it now includes a maritime component and this is providing headaches for park management.
Poaching of abalone (perlemoen) in the Bird Island group, comprising Bird, Seal and Stag islands as well as Black Rocks, in Algoa Bay is an ever-present problem. Add incursions by commercial and recreation fishermen to the protected maritime area controlled by Addo and the need for a visible and active anti-poaching unit becomes even greater.
Until now maritime counter- and anti-poaching activities in the park have centred round a 14-year-old vessel but this has changed thanks to an initiative by the Addo region honorary rangers. Earlier this month they handed over a Gemini Waverider Pro, fitted with a pair of powerful Honda outboard engines, to the Addo maritime anti-poaching unit.
“When at sea our rangers shouldn’t have to worry about the reliability of the vessel they’re in and whether it’ll place their lives in danger. Also, as enforcement officers out at sea at night, combating illegal activities conducted by organised crime syndicates, they need the best equipment available to achieve maximum positive results,” said Addo conservation and acting park manager, John Adendorff.
“The Addo Elephant National Park management team drew up a shortlist of priority items which would have the greatest impact on countering poaching activities in the park and submitted this to SANParks Addo region honorary rangers. If funds allowed one or more items on the list would be acquired. A decision, in conjunction with ark management, was made for the boat. It was decided that the vessel was the most effective support we could offer Addo in their attempts to curb abalone poaching off our immediate coastline,” said Rob Holliday, Addo region honorary rangers chairman.
The Bird Island group on the north-eastern side of Algoa Bay has a number of ecologically distinct sub-tidal habitats containing many endemic species of invertebrates, seaweeds and fish. It is also of particular importance due to the threatened abalone species found there.
Large scale illegal harvesting of abalone by organised crime syndicates started in the Eastern Cape and mainly along the Port Elizabeth coastline in 1996. From about 2002, as the resource continued to be plundered and became scarce, this illegal activity expanded in the direction of Bird Island.
In 2004 an MPA (marine protected areas) was established around the Bird Island group to curb illegal harvesting of abalone. This had little effect on the plundering that took place and in 2006 a complete dive ban was implemented. This had some effect, but still the plundering continued Holliday said.
The SA Navy has long had inshore patrol vessels on its wish list to assist organisations such as SANParks and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) to curb poaching of maritime resources. At present it appears the acquisition of these vessels will not happen in the foreseeable future with offshore patrol vessels rated a higher priority.
At the same time the DAFF fleet, slowly becoming operational again, will find itself working more offshore where commercial fishing and poaching vessels are active. This leaves conservation agencies such as SANParks no option but to go it alone.