By Andrew Venter
How ironic, that on the same weekend that South Africa celebrated “World Rhino Day”, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife reported that they had found an unbelievable 9 rhino carcasses. 7 of these were found in 1 section in Hluhluwe Game Reserve! This raises real concern over management competency and commitment in this park and suggests that Ezemvelo’s strategy is faltering despite their high media profile on this issue. In practise, as security for KZN’s private and communal rhino populations tightens up, the weaknesses in Ezemvelo’s management and law enforcement ability are becoming more and more apparent. This was inevitable.
Over the past decade, Ezemvelo has been under significant political pressure to transform. In the process, it has “fast tracked’ the appointment of a number of young managers who have great potential but very little experience. It has also actively reduced its law enforcement and investigations ability, by not replacing key staff and equipment. In the absence of the Rhino poaching onslaught these strategies made some sense. However, in the presence of this onslaught these two strategies have totally undermined Ezemvelo’s law enforcement and wildlife protection mandate. Ezemvelo are custodians of over 2 700 White Rhino and 370 Black Rhino. Alive, the collective value of these Rhino is around R 750 million. The rhino horn value of these animals is closer to R 7.5 billion!
The Hluhluwe massacre takes the total rhino lost in KZN this year to 46. The vast majority of these were from Ezemvelo reserves. Opathe Game Reserve no longer has rhino, with the entire population having been poached. Ndumo Game Reserve is fast heading that way. This is simply unacceptable and can be stopped. There are a number of private reserves in KZN that have similar size populations that are intact and growing. The simple reality is that these reserves have “locked” down their Rhino. They have invested significantly in their security systems and have limited reserve access to individuals whose credentials have been verified. By contrast, Ezemvelo has not done this. A simple example is Ezemvelo’s regulation of its Hluhluwe – Imfolozi Park (HIP) Alien Plant contractors. These contractors do not go through any form of standard criminal or fraud record checks. Their identities are not verified and their drivers’ licenses are not checked. Yet they are provided with gate passes and allowed to move freely throughout the park, and their vehicles are not searched when they enter and leave the park. Thus it is really not surprising that Rhino are being poached in this reserve. In fact, rumours abound that Rhino poaching is simply the tip of the iceberg and that HIP is home to a vibrant bush meat trade with local staff illegally harvesting and selling meat. More....