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Sustained collaborative efforts yield positive results as the decline in rhino poaching persists – SAPeople

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rhino poaching South Africa
Rhino poaching South Africa. Photo: Pixabay

In the first six months of 2023, 231 rhinos were killed in South Africa. These figures represent an eleven per cent decrease (or a decline of 28 animals killed for their horn) compared to the same period last year. Between 1 January and 30 June 2023, poaching trends also continued to show a move away from the Kruger National Park to provincial and private reserves.

Forty-two rhinos were poached in the Kruger National Park and 143 in KwaZulu-Natal Province from January to June 2023. Forty-six of the rhino killed were in privately-owned nature reserves and 143 in provincially owned reserves.

Because the demand for rhino horn remains a constant threat to rhino populations collaboration between law enforcement agencies, including the SAPS, DPCI and the Green Scorpions, Customs officials, the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) and the National Prosecuting Authority, remain key. These efforts are supported by private security.

An important development in strengthening the collaboration between these role players in order to effectively address the organised nature of rhino poaching and wildlife trafficking is Cabinet’s recent approval in May this year of the National Integrated Strategy to Combat Wildlife Trafficking (NISCWT).

“This strategy aims to break the illicit value chain of wildlife trafficking in South Africa and beyond its borders. It represents a commitment by the government to direct law enforcement ability and effort and mobilize societal support to address the threat wildlife tracking poses to national security and the country’s rich biodiversity. Although currently our main focus is rhino, the Strategy also aims to address the illegal trade in, and poaching of, other species that are threatened by trafficking syndicates, like abalone” said Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Minister, Ms Barbara Creecy.

In the first six months of this year, our hard work with both the SAPS and the NPA has led to the conviction of 31 offenders. The majority of sentences were custodial. In Skukuza, one suspect found guilty of killing 3 rhinos and possession of unlawful arms and ammunition was sentenced to an effective 32 years imprisonment.

In another matter, 3 accused, found driving in Kruger National Park, with 5 rhino horns hidden in the vehicle, a hunting rifle with a silencer, ammunition and knives, were convicted for the killing of 3 rhinos in the park, possession of unlawful firearms and ammunition, possession of dangerous weapons and trespassing. Accused 1 and 2 were sentenced to 34 years imprisonment, whilst accused 3 was sentenced to 39 years imprisonment.

In Limpopo, an accused individual was sentenced on a charge of murder, killing of 2 rhinos, unlicenced firearm and ammunition to an effective sentence of 24 years imprisonment.

In the Eastern Cape, 6 accused were convicted on charges of conspiracy to commit rhino poaching (notably no rhinos were killed) and the possession of unlicenced firearm and ammunition and effectively sentenced to imprisonment ranging from 16 to 20 years.

Yesterday was World Ranger Day and so it is important today that we honour the bravery and dedication of the men and women who run our ranger services and who are on the front line of the battle against wildlife poaching.

The role of rangers in supporting the prosecution and sentencing of those arrested for wildlife crimes committed in the Kruger cannot be underestimated. There is strong collaboration between the SAPS forensic teams and SANParks ECI when attending crime scenes to ensure the collection of vital evidence to link suspects to the crime scenes. It is also done to ensure minimum contamination of the crime scene.

During the meeting held earlier this year with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP)’s Environmental Working Group we discussed the challenge relating to the opposing of bail due to the fact that rhino poaching is not listed as a Scheduled Offence. Research is being conducted to propose, if viable, legislative amendments to address this challenge.

Unfortunately, rhino poachers have continued to target the Hluhluwe/iMfolozi game reserve in KwaZulu-Natal where Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, supported by the Department and iSimangaliso Wetland Park, continues to implement a number of measures to combat rhino poaching.

Among these has been the establishment of a Tactical Operations Joint Control Centre, which now facilitates the SAPS deployments to Hluhluwe/iMfolozi Park (HiP). The Department made available R40 million for the repair and replacement of the boundary fence around the Hluhluwe/iMfolozi game reserve which is regularly breached and through which wild animals can escape to nearby communities.

The National Prosecuting Authority has also designated a prosecutor to facilitate rhino cases in KZN and cases have been prioritised and identified to be expedited through the court processes.

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In response to a range of studies that point out collusion between our ranger services and criminal syndicates, the Kruger National Park has developed a holistic Ranger Services – Integrity Management Plan.

This plan aims to improve ranger morale and resilience to corruption by providing services that enhance ranger health and well-being, provide training and counselling, offer a range of financial management services and debt management. The Ranger Service has also enlisted the Association of Savings and Investment South Africa (ASISA) Foundation to provide specialised Financial Literacy Training for all field rangers. This was attended by 334 employees.

SANParks has also established an Integrity Testing System (a Polygraph policy) for new recruits and to support anti-corruption investigations.

To ensure safe passage of tourists en route to the park, SANParks has joined a task team championed by the Deputy Minister of Tourism, Fish Mahlalela, in collaboration with the traditional leaders of adjoining communities, the SAPS and Private Security companies to ensure constant patrols along the identified hotspots en route to the Kruger National Park.

South Africa’s national parks are situated in areas of extreme poverty and are surrounded by many vulnerable communities. In order to ensure that communities on the outskirts of parks benefit from tourism and thus help to keep tourists safe, SANParks has held a number of stakeholder engagements with entrepreneurs in the past four years with regard to the provision of goods and services to our national parks. In addition, through Working for Water, Ecosystems and Wetlands programmes, we have created 33 222 Work opportunities for communities living on the outskirts of our national parks.

** Members of the public can report any suspicious activities around wildlife to its environmental crime hotline which is 0800 205 005 or the SAPS number 10111

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