Wildlife poaching under the microscope


With the number of rhinos killed in South Africa fast nearing the 900 mark, and poaching of other prize wildlife also increasing, two high level meetings are currently underway in southern Africa to address the scourge of poaching on the African continent.

Skukuza in the Kruger National Park is host to a stakeholder workshop on rhino poaching that ends on Thursday. Botswana and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) are jointly chairing the African Elephant Summit in Gaborone. The Summit, due to finish on Wednesday, aims to get African states to protect elephants and reduce the illegal trade in ivory, particularly amongst states that are host to elephants, are used to transport ivory and that consume ivory.

The gatherings follow a Southern African Development Community (SADC) environment and natural resources Ministerial meeting in Maputo last week. The 11 SADC states present called on “key stakeholders and local communities to fully participate in efforts to strengthen management of the region’s natural resources in particular combatting illegal harvesting of elephants and rhino”.

The Skukuza workshop is being held under the auspices of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Water and Environmental Affairs. Its main objective is to give impetus to efforts underway and commitments made to reduce the number of rhinos killed in South Africa for their horns.

In 2010, 333 rhino were killed and this number has increased year on year with 668 recorded last year. Latest statistics from the department show 891 rhinos had been killed by last week.

To combat the ever-increasing threat to South Africa’s rhino population, particularly its single largest component in the Kruger National Park, an increasingly militaristic approach has been adopted by SANParks management. This saw a retired SA Army general appointed to head up special operations, including anti- and counter-poaching, earlier this year.

While carcasses are found daily in Kruger, Johan Jooste is confident the measures now in place will, over time, contribute to an at least 20% reduction in the number of rhinos killed in the park annually. Improved intelligence gathering and a far more military approach to anti-poaching patrols, including the use of airborne assets, are the major components of the strategy now operational in the park.

Ahead of the Botswana summit, a joint UN Environment Programme (UNEP)/Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) statement said: “Elephant poaching and the illegal ivory trade are a major concern across Africa and beyond, with serious security (particularly in Central Africa), economic, political and ecological ramifications as these crimes increase in frequency and severity. The poaching of elephants has also expanded into previously secure elephant populations”.

One of these incidents, in September, saw more than 300 elephants killed in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. The animals were poisoned with cyanide in what professional hunters have called “the worst single massacre of wildlife in southern Africa for 25 years”.

Apart from raising awareness at political level about the plight of the African elephant the Summit wants to see a commitment to action and funding and technical support to implement to secure viable elephant populations and stop the illegal ivory trade.

The Summit will also discuss steps to be taken to address national security risks resulting from elephant poaching.