The increase in poaching witnessed by the Kruger National Park has declined in the last year, according to the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), as anti-poaching efforts start to bear fruit.
According to Lieutenant Colonel Piet Paxton of the SANDF's Joint Operations Division, in 2010-2011 there was a roughly 40% increase in poaching, with another 40% increase the following year and a 25% increase the year after that, indicating that poaching is in decline.
Paxton said that the SANDF was picking up an increasing number of incursions due to better patrolling, with more arrests and more shootouts. At present there are some 13 SANDF companies deployed in seven of nine provinces along South Africa’s borders, notably those shared with Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia and Botswana.
The borders with Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho and Zimbabwe are the most actively patrolled, especially with Mozambique along the Kruger National Park, which is the epicentre of rhino poaching in South Africa.
Paxton said that a priority for troops on the border is to apprehend poachers crossing into the Kruger National Park. He said said there were many challenges in locating poachers, especially due to terrain and the long distances involved. The one company of around 150 personnel in the Kruger park has as its mandate the protection of the border – its job is not anti-poaching per se (as this task is carried out by the South African Police Service, Hawks and Parks Board), but rather to apprehend people, including poachers, coming across the border illegally.
Paxton explained that there are many categories of people crossing the border, such as those without travelling documents and those with documents who cross illegally when they bypass official transit points. When the SANDF apprehends suspected poachers and illegal border jumpers, it hands them over to the police who will process them.
The SANDF is not allowed to shoot at poachers, even if armed, but is allowed to defend itself when shot at. Paxton said so many poachers were shot because they are determined to fight their way out of the park and deliver rhino horns to Mozambique. As a result, most of the poachers captured alive have been unarmed as they are spotters, bearers and ‘butchers’ who carry saws and axes to hack off animal horns.
Paxton said the majority of poachers come from Mozambique and that a big problem is that little to nothing is done to prevent poaching there.
Water and Environmental Affairs minister Edna Molewa is in discussions with Mozambique regarding the signing of an agreement to limit poaching and that would include allowing South African personnel to pursue poachers across the border into Mozambique.
Retired South African Army General Johan Jooste included hot pursuit when he presented a strategy to curb rhino poaching in the Kruger National Park to SANParks management in August. He wants approval for rangers, soldiers and other government agencies to track suspected poachers across the international border without fear of reprisal.
That Mozambique is the origin of the majority of poachers entering Kruger was confirmed last year by former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano. Speaking at the launch of a wildlife preservation foundation in Maputo, he said 70% of rhino killing in South Africa could be attributed to Mozambicans. This is borne out by South African arrest figures in connection with cases of suspected rhino poaching which show that 68% are from Mozambique.
Paxton believed that the war against poaching will not be won in the Kruger park but where demand starts.
Apart from rhino poaching, which forms part of Operation Corona to protect South Africa’s borders, Paxton highlighted recent successes on the borders – over the last 12 months, SANDF border troops have confiscated contraband, mainly cigarettes and liquor, worth more than R100 million and also stopped more than 15 tons of dagga, valued at R50 million, from reaching illegal markets in South Africa.
The soldiers patrolling the country’s borders, on foot and horseback as well as on motorcycles and in specifically modified and strengthened bakkies, also apprehended 80 000 undocumented persons.
With the broad mandate of securing South Africa’s borders the soldiers were also responsible for the arrest of 2 000 known criminals, recovering more than 300 stolen vehicles and 18 000 head of livestock, mostly cattle but also goats, sheep and chickens.
A hundred and three weapons of various calibres and types were also confiscated from undocumented persons and illegal immigrants.
The SANDF plans for Operation Corona will see 22 companies, each comprising about 165 personnel, deployed along the country’s 4 471km landward borders by the end of the 2015/16 financial year.
Paxton said that all the border bases with the exception of Upington are up to standard. The Upington base is being upgraded with accommodation facilities.