Rhino poachers target Kruger Park

11 May 2015

Kruger National Park remains the hardest hit when it comes to rhino poaching – losing 290 animals of the 393 killed in South Africa by April, Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said at a briefing on Sunday.

While figures for the rest of South Africa show either a decrease or stabilisation compared to last year, numbers continue to increase in the Kruger National Park. By April 2014, the number of rhino lost to poachers was 331 for the whole of the country and 212 for the Kruger.

She said that although her department was making progress, the fight against poaching needed to be fought by everyone in society as government could not win the battle alone.

However, despite the high numbers, her department had recorded a number of successes as its strategies to disrupt criminal syndicates were starting to bear fruit.

“We are not losing the battle,” she said, with the number of people arrested for poaching on the increase. Just over 130 people had been arrested for rhino-poaching related activities by April, including 62 in the Kruger.

News24 reports that Molewa said the government had been liaising with countries including Vietnam, Mozambique and China in the fight against poaching.

“One rhino poached is one too many. But we are confident that had it not been for the comprehensive measures we introduced last year… the figures could be higher,” the news site reports Molewa as saying.

Arrests

Molewa said given the magnitude of the problem, as well as the fact that rhino poaching is closely linked to organised transnational crime, it required an escalation of everyone’s efforts to end it.

National Police Commissioner General Riah Phiyega said poaching has accelerated in recent years as the value of ivory and rhino horn had increased on the international black market, especially in Asia.

“We are equally vigilant outside the Kruger National Park,” Phiyega said. “Between January and April this year, we’ve arrested 64 people inside the park, while we’ve arrested 66 outside the park. Within the four month period, we recovered 16 firearms, 99 rounds of ammunition, nine vehicles, and 13 rounds of horns, 27 axes and knives.

Improved technology

“To assist in the fight against poaching, our security forces working with SANParks have upped their technological game,” Molewa said.

“We received an initial grant funding of R254.8-million in 2014 to support anti-poaching operations in the Kruger National Park,” she said. The funding was used to establish aerial support capacity, and a first helicopter was purchased in September 2014.

The Howard G Buffet Foundation also granted SANParks R37.7-million, used to purchase a second Airbus AS350 B3e helicopter to help support monitoring by air in the Kruger.

The new Airbus helicopter has night-flying capability and will improve response time in dealing with incidents in the park. “Just recently, the helicopter assisted in a dramatic pre-dusk swoop inside the KNP that netted four suspected poachers as well as a range of poaching equipment,” Moelwa said.

The improved aerial support to the rangers of the ground, and the increasing capacity of the canine unit, are helping to improve the effectiveness of the anti-poaching operations in the Kruger National Park, she said.

The SANDF, SANParks and the CSIR were also currently piloting and evaluating “unmanned aerial vehicles” – known as drones. Their use is subject to finalisation of arrangements with the Department of Transport.

SAinfo reporter and SAnews.gov