By Kim Helfrich
With year-end fast approaching, South Africa is still losing more than three rhinos a day to poachers and if the killing continues at this rate last year’s all time high loss of 1 004 animals will be exceeded by about 100.
By far the majority of poaching occurs in the Kruger National Park – 581 out of the national loss of 899 animals as of October 24 – and it is alleged Mozambicans are primarily responsible.
Kruger rangers, assisted by elements of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) and SA Police Service (SAPS), are at the forefront of the anti-poaching effort which, although police maintain otherwise, appears to be hampered by the lack of official sanction on hot pursuit across national borders.
National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega indicated in September that hot pursuit, not only of suspected rhino poachers but also other criminal suspects, was a reality. A senior SAPS spokesman afterwards said it was more an arrangement rather than an agreement between Southern African Development Community (SADC) police chiefs.
Opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party deputy environment affairs minister Terri Stander has questioned the legality of the arrangement and is still waiting for answers from the Police Ministry on the nature of the agreement between South Africa and Mozambique regarding hot pursuit operations of suspected rhino poachers.
Also unhappy about the rate at which rhino are falling to poachers’ high-powered hunting rifles is the Centurion-based civil rights organisation, AfriForum.
It has written to Environmental Affairs Minister, Edna Molewa, asking for emergency measures to be implemented to at least cut down on the number of rhinos being poached as well as approval to be given at the “highest level” for cross-border hot pursuit of poaching suspects.
AfriForum’s head of environment affairs, Julius Kleynhans, also wants to see more use being made of “unmanned tracking technology” in the form of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) to keep poachers out of Kruger and catch those hunting illegally in the world-famous game reserve.
A Seeker from the Denel Dynamics stable of UAVs has been deployed in Kruger to provide extra eyes and intelligence, particularly at night, as part of the overall anti-poaching operation. This has included an SA Air Force (SAAF) A109 light utility helicopter, the park’s own fixed and rotary-winged aircraft and the services of two aircraft made possible via a donation by the Ichikowitz Foundation in terms of airborne assets.
Responding to AfriForum Molewa said proactive anti-poaching operations were part of government’s integrated strategic management of rhino plan as was national and international collaboration to combat all wildlife poaching.
The latest rhino kill statistics show 899 dead across all nine provinces with three killed in Gauteng, two in the Northern Cape and one in the Western Cape in addition to the favoured poaching locations of Kruger, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and North West.
On the credit side of the ledger, arrests in connection with poaching continue to rise with 282 people behind bars as of last Friday. The total number of arrests last year was 343.