By Bandile Mkhize
Passopa! To all those criminals out there, you have been warned: We are ready to flush you out. We will track you down! You will not pillage and rape our wildlife heritage.
I write this in reference to a critical development in our rhino poaching war, something that revealed itself seven weeks ago while people were preparing for their Christmas holidays.
A team of 30 specially trained people undertook a surprise raid on select targets in the Ndumo, Jozini and Manguzi areas of northern KZN.
For the first time, this task team included members of the SAPS’s Provincial Tracking Team, Public Order Police and detectives from Stock Theft. It also included pilots from Operation Rhino’s aerial support wing (Zap Wing) and, of course, anti-poaching units from “Ezemvelo”.
In other words, this was an inclusive grouping of law enforcement agencies underwritten by the South African government.
The raid was an expression of a national will to control rhino and other types of poaching, as well as the illegal possession of firearms, wildlife parts and the like.
Many months of high-level discussions have seen our provincial commissioner being very supportive of rhino anti-poaching in KZN.
This has now resulted in rhino poaching in KZN being elevated to what is called a “priority crime combating”. In effect, rhino poaching has been placed on a similar footing as other transnational crimes, such as smuggling, human trafficking, cash-in-transit etc.
This first combined operation was highly successful.
Two traditional healers and two suspected rhino poachers were arrested. Illegal rifles, shotguns and revolvers were confiscated. Rhino and buffalo horn, python, elephant and hippo skins were discovered and confiscated.
A third raid, the biggest of them all, has just been completed. It included two helicopters, 11 bakkies, two trucks and about 50 SAPS and Ezemvelo personnel who jointly confiscated 42 fishing craft lying on the banks of False Bay.
These boats, belonging to locals in the Nkunduse region on the southern boundary of False Bay, were all destroyed. This included nearly 5km of gill nets, too.
We knew these boats have also been used to ferry rhino poachers across the lake on to the Eastern Shores of the iSimangaliso World Heritage Park where poaching has occurred.
The local people have been repeatedly warned that these boats and gill-netting are not allowed. During the 1980 and 90s, conservation repeatedly tried to implement a sustainable fishing policy to cater for people’s subsistence needs.
Three communities were granted permits to catch fish in a sustainable manner.
These were repeatedly ignored as the number of craft and gill nets ballooned and the “industry” grew into a major commercial enterprise.
I do not have to tell you how devastating and indiscriminate gill-netting is. You might see it as an aquatic version of countless hundreds of snares. And the by-catch includes everything from fingerlings through to birds and even hippo and crocodiles.
Readers, these raids will continue. They will become more effective as our intelligence capacity grows in pinpointing syndicates, gangs and even traditional healers who deal in the theft and illegal trade of our wildlife.
Law enforcement and community upliftment are sometimes tense bedfellows.
I have placed my and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s entire reputation and credibility on making the practice of conservation as inclusive of our communities as possible.
I will continue to do so under the banner of “African Conservation” and the priority status of people in this practice.
But no sustainable practice of conservation can be achieved if under our noses people flout the law and blatantly abuse our natural resources for illegal gain.