Cape Town - South Africa's minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa has lauded the filmmakers of the recent Al Jazeera rhino poaching documentary ‘The Poacher’s Pipeline’, for their investigative work.
The minister released an official statement on the matter on Tuesday, 14 November, saying the expose "draws attention to the links between rhino poaching in general and organised crime, a fact the department has always maintained.
Molewa says the department also notes the seriousness of the allegations contained in the documentary – particularly as this relates to transnational criminal syndicates involved in the illicit wildlife trade operating from South Africa.
She says, "As the department tasked with conserving, amongst others, our iconic rhino populations, and coordinating the actions taken with the security departments to combat rhino poaching, the department of environmental affairs will continue to use all means at our disposal to end rhino poaching."
'Caution against rushing to cast aspersions'
In the same breath, however, Molewa "cautions rushing to cast aspersions based on photographs of the State Security Minister David Mahlobo, simply [because he was] photographed in certain company".
Mahlobo described the documentary linking him to the syndicate as “gutter journalism” with far-reaching consequences for South Africa’s international relations.
SEE: Al Jazeera Investigates - The Poachers Pipeline
"They are basically linking the fact that I used to visit a spa in Mpumalanga solely for the services that they render, to the illegal poaching of rhino horns by its owner – which I have also just been made aware of now through the aired broadcast."
On Sunday, 13 November, City Press reported that a self-confessed criminal and spa owner named Guan Jiang Guang openly bragged about bribing South African justice and immigration officials in the Al Jazeera documentary.
Guang said he knew Mahlobo well and that the minister had been a guest at his house. Although Mahlobo confirmed their relations and interaction, he said it did not mean that they are friends.
Confusion over Kruger service provider's termination
Minister Molewa says that Al Jazeera's findings that Mahlobo was involved in terminating the services of a private service provider contracted to SANParks to perform certain services in the Kruger National Park, is untested and concerning.
According to the DEA, SANParks' Board terminated the Professional Services Agreement with the company in question, in full compliance with the law, following consultation with Molewa.
The State Security Agency (SSA) has issued a statement responding to the allegations contained in the documentary, and the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks) are further investigating this matter.
Rhinos the real victims
South Africa's dwindling rhino population remains the real victim of the current poaching epidemic in southern Africa, regardless of the allegations and who is involved. Although rhino poaching figures has relatively stabilized over the past two years, conservationist Scott Ramsay still describes 2015 as the worst year in decades for rhino poaching.
Despite South Africa's rhino poaching figures dropping for the first time in six years in 2015, Africa’s rhinos are still in dire straits.
More than 1 300 rhinos were killed across the continent in 2015, according to TRAFFIC, a wildlife monitoring group.
"Both Zimbabwe and Namibia has seen a rise in rhino poaching, which more than offsets the decrease in South Africa," Ramsay writes. "Zimbabwe lost 50 rhinos (up from 20 in 2014, and more than were born in the whole country) and Namibia lost 80, compared to 24 in 2014.
SEE: #ShockWildlifeTruths: 2015 the worst year in decades for rhino poaching
“For Africa as a whole, this is the worst year in decades for rhino poaching,” TRAFFIC’s Tom Milliken says.
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