SA sees 'slight decrease' in rhino poaching in 2017

2017-07-24 14:17 - Kavitha Pillay
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Cape Town - The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) released an update on the status of rhino poaching in SA for the last two quarters, with data showing a slight decrease in poaching nationally. 

Covering the period January through March 2017, and then April through June 2017, this was the first comprehensive report for 2017 on the state of rhino poaching in South Africa, as well as on the progress of the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros approach.

"A total of 529 rhino have been poached since January 2017, compared to 542 in the same period for 2016, representing a decrease of 13 rhinos," says The Minister of Environmental Affairs, Dr Edna Molewa.

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Regarding Kruger National Park (KNP), Molewa says 243 rhino carcasses were found between January and the end of June 2017, compared to 354 in the same period in 2016, representing "a decrease of 34%".

"This is due to our sustained effective law enforcement efforts," says the minister, adding "Given its size and the large number of rhino living in the KNP in particular, much of our efforts remain directed there".

"These declining numbers do not mean we can proclaim victory. Nevertheless, the downward trend is being established, which is cause for cautious optimism," she adds.

Poaching increase in KZN

While there has been a decrease in the number of rhino poached in KNP, rhino poaching has increased in other provinces - particularly KZN, which has seen over 130 rhino poached in the province according to Ishaam Abader, DDG at Legal Authorisation Compliance and Enforcement.

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In an attempt to combat the increase of poaching in KZN, Molewa says "Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife has begun strengthening its response capacity as an anti-poaching unit in line with the existing Mission Area Joint Operational Center (MAJOC). As part of the plan, they are now in the process of setting up an Intensive Protection Zone (IPZ) to ensure priority allocation of resources to where it matters most."

She says that the implementation of the zoning concept in the KNP proves to be a "success", and therefore "this concept is also being rolled out in other provinces according their specific requirements and circumstances".

"Rhino poaching is a National Priority Crime and we continue to pursue a number of strategies to tackle this problem," says Molewa.

The report also states that 30 elephants were poached in KNP. "Elephant poaching increase in KNP is of great concern. In Africa it is decreasing but it is increasing in SA," says the DEA.

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"The interventions being implemented to counter rhino poaching are also used to respond to this emerging threat (elephant poaching)," says Molewa, adding "more resources are required to address this challenge that we are experiencing in terms of both rhino and elephant poaching".

The Integrated Strategic Management Approach of Rhinoceros

DEA minister was joined by other ministers who are collaborating in the implementation of the Integrated Strategic Management Approach.  

The Approach, adopted by Cabinet in August 2014, is “the South African government's multi-sectoral, multi-disciplinary strategy to combat the threat posed by rhino poaching”.  

"Our Integrated Strategic Management Approach involving the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster Departments and a number of State Agencies, namely the Departments of Defence, Environmental Affairs, Justice, Constitutional Development and Correctional Services, the South African Police Service (SAPS), Ministry of State Security and its Agency, South African National Parks (SANParks), the South African Revenue Service (SARS), as well as provincial conservation authorities," says Molewa.

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Molewa says that the implementation plan for the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros "as well as the outcomes of the report of the Committee of Inquiry (CoI), were refined during a month-long Rhino Laboratory held last year."

Role-players in the Rhino Lab include many government departments, with "support from important stakeholders in business, civil society, as well as representatives from communities", says the DEA.

The outcomes of the Rhino Lab are aligned with key areas:

  • Law enforcement (anti-poaching and anti-trafficking) – with significant improvements in intelligence capabilities, a full value chain approach of illicit networks (led by SAPS), and ramp-up of Province anti-poaching capacities.
  • Demand Management - with a detailed view on data required to inform policy and actionable initiatives.
  • Management of rhino populations – outlining processes to develop and share best practices to optimise birth rates.
  • Community Empowerment - to increase economic participation for communities adjacent to parks.
  • Responsive Legislation
  • Plans for incentives to stakeholders and improve stockpile management

The roll-out of the initiatives has a time frame through to 2022, but Molewa ways "a number of ‘quick wins’ have been identified for implementation that will yield results within a year".

"A Community rhino ambassadors programme is being rolled-out and the Anti-Poaching Unit (APU) ranger training curriculum is being finalised," she says, adding that the "Rhino Conservation Lab initiatives will be implemented by a broad group of identified stakeholders and tracked within the context of the Biodiversity Lab Delivery Unit".

Campaign against poaching

DEA, together with the South African Police Service (SAPS), Departments of Defence (DoD) Justice and Constitutional Development (DOJCD) and the State Security Agency (SSA), lead the campaign against rhino poaching.

"Our provincial conservation authorities and SANParks ensure the execution of plans inside our provincial and national Parks, and I would like to salute them, especially our Ranger Corps. They are our men and women on the frontline, keeping our precious natural resources safe," says Molewa.

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She says that almost the entire Ranger Corps have been converted to anti-poaching units. "They are well trained and supported by canine units, small air wings, and relevant technology," she adds.

Molewa explains that "tactical information management ensures the intelligent deployment of these units" and that this approach is also being followed by private rhino owners.

DEA is also looking at using new technological interventions to combat poaching. Molewa says "the latest breakthrough being our home-grown mobile radar system which has the ability to cover hundreds of square kilometres to ensure early warning and assist with the night engagement of poacher groups".

Arrests, investigations and prosecutions

Since January, the DEA reports that "a total of 359 alleged poachers and traffickers have been arrested nationally".

The number of arrests inside the Kruger National Park totalled 90 alleged poachers with 112 arrested adjacent to the KNP. Molewa says that with "people being arrested before they can get in (to KNP)", proves the effort and progress being made to decrease poaching.

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"To make a real impact on rhino poaching, these arrests must translate into successful investigations and prosecutions," she adds.

"A number of successful prosecutions" have been made according to the DEA, who say that "the Stock Theft and Endangered Species Unit continues to play an instrumental role in ensuring rhino poaching cases come to trial".

"Since January, 15 cases have been recently finalised which resulted in convictions with 22 perpetrators being sentenced to a total of 95 years imprisonment," says Molewa, adding that previously some of these arrests were never made.

She adds that the Hawks have also made arrests and seizures in 9 cases involving rhino horn traffickers, involving 13 suspects and about 140 kilograms of rhino horn.  

Ports of Entry and Exit

"There has been a marked increase globally during 2017 in the number of rhino horn detections and seizures at ports of entry and exit," says Molewa. "There have been several detections at OR Tambo International Airport (ORTIA)."

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DEA confirms that the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), border officials and airline handling teams are trained by the DEA "to build capacity to tackle the illicit trans-boundary movement of endangered species".

Malewa says that South Africa has also "formally requested DNA samples from illegally traded horn confiscated in Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Swaziland, Namibia, Mozambique and the Netherlands", adding that a new route is being used through the Netherlands to transport rhino horn.

The samples assist in linking seizures to poaching incidents, providing information to assist with further investigations explains the DEA.

Managing rhino populations

According to DEA, SANParks initiated a process of trans-locating rhino from high risk poaching areas during 2014. "Since 1990 the translocation of rhinos to smaller farms and reserves has resulted in those rhino populations growing faster than would have been the case had they remained in the KNP," says Molewa.

This year however, DEA says they have not been able to translocate any rhinos. 

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SANParks visits the established strongholds to assess progress, and while DEA says that "For the most part, all rhinos were doing well and have established well in their new environments" they also note that "one facility experienced an aggressive poaching onslaught and lost 15 rhinos out of 35, some of which originated from the KNP".

"SANParks and the owner are now working together to find an alternative stronghold using the same criteria," says Molewa.

To manage rhino population, there is also the Rhino Protection Programme to support orphanages, and to increase the black rhino population, DEA initiated a new Rhino Guardian project in KNP with "a priority response by task teams when incursions occur that could threaten black rhinos", says Molewa.

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