Officials not spared in fight against rhino poaching

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Government’s focus on anti-corruption strategies in the protracted battle to protect the rhino is starting to yield dividends, with 21 officials arrested for poaching related offences.

Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa on Thursday gave a progress report on the implementation of the Integrated Strategic Management Approach of Rhinoceros.

Addressing media in Tshwane, Minister Molewa said a total of 220 weapons were seized in rhino-related incidents both inside and outside the Kruger National Park (KNP) in 2017.

“…There have been arrests made for poaching-related offences from amongst our own personnel. Regrettably, during 2017, 21 officials were arrested in this regard,” the Minister said.

South African National Parks (SANParks) has also instituted a programme of integrity testing throughout the organisation to support ongoing anti-poaching efforts. This, Minister Molewa said, is part of national government’s commitment to root out corruption. 

The 2017 anti-poaching report shows that 502 alleged rhino poachers and 16 alleged traffickers were arrested nationally, bringing the total figure to 518. This represents a decrease from 2016 when 680 poachers and traffickers were arrested.

The number of arrests of alleged poachers in the KNP stood at 446 in 2017. This includes 189 arrested inside the KNP and 257 adjacent to the park.

Investigations and prosecutions

Minister Molewa acknowledged the work of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in ensuring that all cases involving poaching make it to trial and are successfully prosecuted.

“The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations (DPCI), also known as the Hawks, working in close cooperation with other government departments, has done sterling work since January 2017.

“The Hawks have determined that there are a number of new trends linked to rhino poaching in South Africa. Smugglers are coming up with new ways and methods to process horn and smuggle it out of the country,” the Minister said.  

Between 1 April and 31 December 2017, the Hawks arrested 16 level three to four (courier/local buyers and exporters) wildlife traffickers of South-East Asian, South African, Mozambican, Zimbabwean and Kenyan origin. About 168.46kg of rhino horn were also confiscated.

“Given the complexities of these syndicates, we regard this figure as a significant achievement,” the Minister said.

Ports of entry and exit

The department’s Environmental Management Inspectors (EMIs), or Green Scorpions, continue with their work at OR Tambo International Airport, working with the South African Revenue Service (SARS) and South African Police Service (SAPS). 

During 2017 there were eight seizures of rhino horn at OR Tambo International Airport.

The first case of 2018 involves the arrest of a South-East Asian national, who was hiding three rhino horn pieces (approximately 4kg) in a wine box. The woman has been charged with illegal possession of rhino horn and exporting without a CITES permit.  She has been granted bail of R150 000 and the case has been postponed to mid-February 2018.

“The Green Scorpions also play an important role in court proceedings where they regularly testify in aggravation of sentence in rhino related cases,” Minister Molewa said. 

Awareness-raising

With regards to training personnel on the detection of illicit trans-boundary movement of wildlife and wildlife products, the Minister said an advanced Grade 5 EMI training programme was completed at the end of October 2017, with 1 273 rangers successfully completing the program.  

For the first time, during 2017, the department commenced with an awareness raising exercise for members of the South African National Defence Force on the illicit trans-boundary movement of wildlife and wildlife products. 

“This initiative will be further rolled out in 2018 in the border-lying provinces of KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and North West. This is part of our continued efforts to build capacity to tackle the illegal wildlife trade along our borders,” Minister Molewa said.

Managing rhino populations

Minister Molewa said SANParks continues to translocate rhino away from high risk poaching areas.  

Translocation of rhino has been an effective tool in enhancing the safety of animals, encouraging population growth and expanding rhino range. 

“Following a request to the South African government by the government of Chad, a team of South African experts visited Chad to conduct due diligence. They assessed habitat, security and management suitability and associated ecological parameters as well as infrastructural readiness prior to the translocation of black rhinos.  

“[A] translocation of a small group of black rhino to the Zakouma National Park in Chad [is planned for] later this year.  This is in terms of the MOU signed between South Africa and Chad in October 2017. The African Rhino Range States Conservation Plan signed in October 2016 encourages, amongst other things, regional cooperation in rhino conservation,” Minister Molewa said.

Chad has excelled in its anti-poaching activities and has only lost two elephants to poachers since 2010.

“This translocation will serve as an example of cooperation between Environmental Affairs and SANParks, the government of Chad and African Parks, which manages national parks in that country,” Minister Molewa said. – SAnews.gov.za

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