Pretoria – Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa has urged South Africans to work with law enforcement agencies and game park authorities to stop the “looting” of rhinos, which she described as a national treasure.
“The on-going scourge of rhino poaching in our country is an area of great concern to this government and ordinary South Africans,” she said at a press briefing on Monday.
Rhino poaching across Africa has risen sharply in the past few years, threatening to reverse hard-won population increases achieved by conservation authorities during the 20th century.
The first alarming spike occurred in 2008, when 83 rhinos were lost. South Africa responded by intensifying its law enforcement efforts.
However Kruger National Park, which is home to the largest populations of both white and black rhinos in the country, was hit the hardest, losing 146 rhinos to poaching in 2010.
Molewa said rhino poaching is a crime that is undoubtedly fuelled by a thriving black market trade in rhino horn. This year, a total of 279 rhinos have been poached, with 169 of them in the Kruger National Park.
Last year, a total of 333 rhinos were illegally killed in the country, including 10 critically endangered black rhinos.
According to the minister, the intensification of the anti-rhino poaching activities has seen 155 suspects arrested in relation to rhino poaching activities this year.
She said of these arrests, 65 were for rhino poaching related activities in the Kruger National Park.
“For this, I must commend the work of the 300 rangers and South African National Parks (SANParks) investigators [and] our security cluster departments who are at the forefront of fighting and preventing poaching,” she said.
Molewa further said together with various stakeholders, they have developed a holistic approach to tackle rhino poaching.
“The investigations and intelligence gathering of rhino cases is overseen by a National Joint Operation structure (NatJoins). The National Strategy for the Safety and Security of Rhinoceros and rhino horns in South Africa is being implemented by both NatJoints and the interim National Wildlife Crime Reaction Unit (NWCRU) across the country,” she said.
She further said the anti-poaching ability of the Kruger National Park has been increased by 57 rangers in the last year.
Molewa said the need for cooperation with both Vietnam and Mozambique is their priority, adding that they are expecting the Vietnamese technical delegation in the country to specifically discuss wildlife management.
“The relationship with Mozambique has to be strengthened to assist in anti-poaching and other wildlife crime issues,” she said.
In a recent bilateral security meeting between the two countries, it was suggested that operations in anti-poaching should be elevated to a priority for both the neighbouring countries. A cross-border strategy for the safety of wildlife will be developed within the next six months.
“I’m also considering additional measures that I aim to implement to arrest the scourge of poaching in our country. It is also my intention to engage with provincial environmental MECs to look at the possibility of placing a moratorium on the hunting of rhinoceros,” she said.
SANParks CEO Dr David Mabunda said incidents of rhino poaching have decreased at the Kruger National Park since the deployment of the South African National Defence Force to monitor the 350 km stretch of national border in the park.
“I can’t say there is a dramatic rise in rhino poaching. But what we’ve witnessed in the past weeks were a few incidents where we lost four rhinos. We can confidently say that the number of incidents decreased quite dramatically,” he said.
South Africa has a track record of successful rhino conservation and has the highest number of white rhinos on the continent. – BuaNews