By Kim Helfrich
The Kruger National Park’s rhino population remains under heavy threat from poachers with no less than 63 carcasses found in the world famous game reserve in the first 30 days of the year.
Nationally poachers have killed 86 rhino so far this year with rhino-rich KwaZulu-Natal second on the loss list with eight animals. Limpopo (six), Free State (four), Mpumalanga (three) and North West (two) have also reported rhino kills to the Department of Environment Affairs.
This equates to a national kill rate of 2.8 animals a day at the start of the year while arrests in connection with poaching stand at 21 for the first 30 days of the year.
Today is also the final day for submissions to be considered for a review of the department’s national rhino strategy. Department spokesman Albi Modise said the review would assist in addressing “emerging issues and potential gaps to further strengthen interventions being implemented to curb rhino poaching”.
One of these gaps is widely seen to be the ease with which poachers come into and leave South Africa from particularly Mozambique. A proposal allowing for hot pursuit of suspected poachers across the international border has been put forward to the SANParks board and the Environmental Affairs Ministry for inclusion in a memorandum of understanding due to be entered into between South Africa and its eastern neighbour.
The memorandum was originally due to have been signed this month but Mozambique has indicated it is not yet in a position to sign.
Against this background retired Army general Johan Jooste, Commanding Officer: Special Projects in the Kruger National Park, has made one of his objectives for this year to reduce rhino poaching by 20%.
Last year Environment Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said rhino poaching had reached such a level that it had been declared a priority crime.
Information from the Department of Environment Affairs, issued on December 19, shows 946 rhinos were killed in 2013. This works out at just over 2.67 animals a day and taking the same kill rate for the final 12 days of the year into account would have seen 978 fall to high-powered hunting rifles and military assault rifles commonly carried by poachers.
On the positive side of the ledger, arrests of poaching suspects totalled 330. This is 63 more than arrested during 2012 with 127 arrests in the Kruger National Park, by far the “preferred” site for rhino poachers. The total number of arrests in connection with rhino poaching during 2012 was 267.