Rhino poaching ‘could reach new high’

"So far [this year]… we have lost more than 500 rhino. [As of] yesterday [Monday], the figure was at 549… The problem is still increasing," environmental affairs deputy director-general Fundisile Mketeni said.

Responsible for biodiversity and conservation in his department, Fundisile was briefing members of Parliament's environmental affairs portfolio committee.

According to figures tabled at Tuesday's briefing, there has been a sharp increase in poaching activity in recent months. They show 25 rhino were illegally killed for their horns in June this year.

This rose to 49 in July, 63 in August, 62 in September, and 75 last month. So far this month, 40 rhino have been killed.

Democratic Alliance MP Gareth Morgan said the figures were worrying.

"I'm deeply concerned about the high number of poachers. I'd really hoped we'd turn the tide in 2012… I'm particularly worried about the November figures, which look — at the current rate — like this will be the biggest month in 2012."

Morgan asked if something unique had happened in recent weeks that might explain such a "spike" in rhino poaching.

Responding, Mketeni told him: "Honestly, it's difficult to say what is happening."

He said the department would examine its records to see if there was a similar spike in previous years.

Sanparks chief executive officer David Mabunda told the committee the situation was complex.

"We indeed accept there is a challenge. Resources have been made available and arrests have increased, but the numbers of rhino killed have not decreased. It's a very complex situation."

He said SA National Defence Force troops, sent to the Kruger National Park to help stop poaching, were only deployed along the southern half of the flagship reserve's eastern border with Mozambique.

"They are not yet active from Masinga Dam to Crook's Corner [the northern point of the park]. So that is still an open area that is not monitored by the defence force, to give us the first line of defence before we can deal with the poaching inside the park."

However, there were gangs of poachers operating out of villages on the Mozambican side of this area, Mabunda said.

This section of the park's boundary is understood to coincide with the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, proclaimed a decade ago. The international boundary fence in this area, which separated the two countries, was dropped at that time.

"On the Mozambican side, there are 38 villages that dot the Limpopo valley, from the Zimbabwean border to the Komati River, where in some instances unemployment is 100 percent," Mabunda said.

"In [some of] these villages… there are known gangs of poachers operating in that area. They are in another country, and we are not able to go in there and deal with the problem."

Mabunda said he hoped once a buffer zone agreement had been signed between the South African and Mozambican governments, they would be able to work with the Mozambicans and deal with the problem.

"In any given day, we experience between 15 and 20 attacks anywhere along that boundary."

Mabunda said there was a need to "deploy technology" to give "early warning detection" of poachers, and allow troops to move in on them.

Removing the fence along this section of the park's eastern boundary was not necessarily a mistake.

"I don't think fences solve problems," he said.

According to figures tabled at the briefing, 224 poachers have been arrested so far this year. A total of 232 were arrested last year, and 165 in 2010.

Over the past six months, 39 people have been convicted for rhino poaching or related crimes. Many of these have been Mozambican nationals.

Last week, a Thai national was given a 40-year sentence for selling rhino horn. Chumlong Lemtongthai pleaded guilty to 59 counts in the Kempton Park Magistrate's Court, including, among others, illegally exporting about 26 rhino horns, trading in rhino horn, breaching the Customs and Excise Act, and tax fraud.

According to environmental affairs, of the more than 1600 rhino killed by poachers over the past five years, more than half have been killed in the Kruger National Park. – Sapa

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Advertisting

Test backlog skews SA’s corona stats

With thousands of samples still waiting to be processed, labs are racing to ramp up testing to help the government gain a better idea of how prevalent Covid-19 really is

M&G’s latest Covid-19 projections

Covid-19 numbers are prompting disaster declarations and dramatic action across South Africa this week. All steps should be directed by numbers

Press Releases

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world

SAB Zenzele special AGM rescheduled to March 25 2020

New voting arrangements are being made to safeguard the health of shareholders

Dimension Data launches Saturday School in PE

The Gauteng Saturday School has produced a number of success stories