2 February 2012
South African Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa has welcomed the 25-year sentences handed down to three Mozambicans this week, as the country steps up its efforts to combat rhino poaching.
The poachers were sentenced by the Phalaborwa Regional Court on Tuesday for illegally hunting rhinos in South Africa’s Kruger National Park in 2010.
Aselmo Baloyi, Jawaki Nkuna and Ismael Baloyi were found guilty on four counts including illegal hunting of rhino, possession of a prohibited firearm, possession of a firearm and possession of ammunition.
Molewa said the sentence would send a strong message to poachers. She was optimistic that the sentence, coupled with increasing anti-poaching measures by the country’s law enforcement agencies, would serve as a deterrent.
Increased anti-poaching measures
These measures include the South African National Defence Force returning to monitor the 350km of national border in Kruger National Park and other country borders, as well as the deployment of conservation specialists at ports through which the trade in endangered species can be exported and imported.
The Department of Water and Environmental and South African National Parks are also in the process of beefing up patrols in the Kruger National Park with the deployment of an additional 150 rangers.
Bilateral engagements between South Africa and Mozambique to deal with cross-border law enforcement are also ongoing, while South Africans have been urged to report any illegal rhino activities by calling the dedicated line 0800 205 005.
232 suspects arrested in 2011
The Department of Water and Environmental Affairs said last week that 232 suspects were arrested in connection with rhino poaching in South Africa last year. These included 194 rhino poachers, 24 receivers of rhino horns, 12 couriers and two exporters. No buyers were arrested.
Briefing parliamentarians in Cape Town, the department’s deputy director-general on biodiversity and conservation, Fundisile Mketeni, said the crime was grossing about R160-billion annually worldwide.
Mketeni said that 122 rhinos were poached in South Africa in 2009, rising to 333 in 2010 and to 448 in 2011. He projected that about 300 rhinos were likely to be poached in the country this year.
He added that the North West and Limpopo provinces had the highest numbers of poached rhinos.
Mketeni was speaking during a briefing to Parliament’s portfolio committee on water and environmental affairs by over a dozen concerned organisations and individuals.
Mketeni said that most of the poached rhino horns were destined for Asian countries such as Vietnam, Thailand and China.
He indicated that South Africa was at various stages of signing bilateral agreements with these countries to help combat the crime.
More co-ordination needed
Mtekeni complained about a lack of coordination between his department and its provincial counterparts as well as other related departments in dealing with problem, and called for his department to be given centralized powers to allow them to decisively deal with the matter.
Mtekeni said that the department should have its own officers trained along the lines of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA).
“We want to have our own intelligence and use it the way we want,” he said, indicating that these would be able to directly pursue rhino poaching syndicates outside the country.
He said they planned to deploy their own officials at ports of entry as well as to train customs officials to help detect suspects about to leave the country.
He called for the Department of Public Works to fix, electrify and insert an electrical detection system on the fence between the Kruger National Park and Mozambique, where rhino poaching activities were frequent.