By Natalie Greve
An 'intensive protection zone' (IPZ) using sophisticated detection and tracking equipment and infrastructure on the ground, as well as in the air, will be established to combat rhino poaching in South Africa’s flagship Kruger National Park and assess antipoaching tactics that can be applied in other regions of Africa.
The IPZ, made possible by a R255-million donation from philanthropist Howard Buffett, through his private US-based charity organisation the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, would include the creation of elite canine units, highly trained ranger teams, improved intelligence gathering and observation, as well as enhanced surveillance systems.
“SANParks [South Africa National Parks\, thanks to the leadership of CEO David Mabunda and the Kruger National Park, provides a unique opportunity to test new technology and new ideas within the best operating national parks system on the continent,” commented Buffett, who is the son of billionaire US investor Warren Buffet.
Mabunda noted that the scale, complexity, and strategic value of the initiative was “truly unprecedented” for SANParks.
“We believe [this funding\ to be transformative in our ongoing efforts to address poaching and the decimation of the rhino population in the Kruger National Park,” he stated.
Leadership for Conservation in Africa, led by its South Africa-based CEO Chris Marais, would provide advisory and advocacy support for the collaboration.
Buffet likened South Africa’s fight against poaching to the US’s “border war” on drugs on Friday at the official cheque-signing ceremony, noting that the Kruger National Park, which spanned Limpopo and Mpumalanga, was currently home to over 40% of the world’s remaining 22 000 rhinos, the largest single population of rhinos in the world.
The funding announcement came as SANParks on Friday increased the total number of rhino poached in South Africa since the beginning of the year to 172, with South Africa’s largest park remaining the hardest hit, having lost 113 rhino since January 1.
A total of 18 rhino had been poached for their horn in Limpopo, 17 in the North West and 11 in KwaZulu-Natal.
Meanwhile, the number of people arrested for rhino poaching-related offences climbed to 54, with 24 poachers arrested in the Kruger National Park and 15 in KwaZulu-Natal.
Since January 2010, 1 383 rhinos had been poached within the Kruger, forming part of a larger assault that had resulted in the death of 2 368 rhinos in recent years.
The Department of Environmental Affairs believed that the Kruger poaching epidemic was largely fuelled by illicit criminal networks in Mozambique, South Africa and East Asia, with evidence suggesting that armed groups elsewhere in Africa derived significant funding from poaching activities.
Kruger’s IPZ would, thus, also serve as a testing ground to inform targeted efforts to combat poaching in these other African regions.
“This effort joins our foundation’s historic support for conservation with our current focus on conflict mitigation in Africa, particularly in the Great Lakes region,” added Buffet.
Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa, who represented her department at the announcement of the funding initiative, assured Buffet that the country was determined “not to lose this fight”.
“We, as South Africa, certainly do not intend to capitulate and lose the battle for the survival of key members of the iconic Big Five. Research by several nongovernment organisations has indicated that rhino horn has become arguably the most expensive commodity on earth today.
“As the demand for rhino horn grows, syndicates increase their efforts to lure members of poverty-stricken communities into the poaching net, recruiting particularly the vulnerable to secure horns.
“Without government, private sector and civil society efforts to manage the rhino poaching problem, it is obvious that the country would be facing a much more terrible situation,” she told Engineering News Online.
According to the Minister, some progress, with regard to the fight against rhino poaching, had already been made with the implementation of the Action Plan on Cooperation in Biodiversity Conservation and Protection, signed between South Africa and Vietnam in May last year – some five months after the successful conclusion of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Vietnam in December 2012.
The plan, which was the result of cooperation and continued negotiations between the two States, sought to promote cooperation in law enforcement, compliance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and other relevant legislation and conventions on the basis of equality and mutual benefit.
Molewa added that a high-level Vietnam government delegation would be undertaking a study tour of South Africa later this month to “chart a way forward” in ensuring the effective implementation of the plan and the alignment of legislation and initiatives by the two countries.
Moreover, the Minister asserted that government had initiated several international cooperation agreements with countries such as Mozambique, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia in a bid to mitigate rhino poaching in the country.
“The signing of an MoU with Mozambique has been delayed, but the hope remains that these will be concluded soon.
“Meanwhile, work to finalise an implementation plan putting into action the terms of the MoU signed between South Africa and the People’s Republic of China in 2013 in the fields of Wetlands, Desert Eco-Systems and Wildlife Conservation is also progressing well,” said Molewa.
The funding announcement was made at the Rosebank office of Standard Bank, which also announced its support for the initiative by providing “favourable” banking fees and interest on the funds held by the institution. Video.