By Kim Helfrich
While official rhino kill figures have only been made available once this year, statistics collected and maintained by conservation NGOs indicate around three rhino a day have been lost to poaching so far this year.
A figure of 405 rhino killed by May 5 has been posted on a reputable conservation NGO website. “Form what we can gather and information collected it seems the rhino kill figure so far this year is around the 400 mark,” a conservationist who preferred anonymity told defenceWeb.
Another NGO maintains the kill figure is closer to 550. “It if carries on like this it will be about 1 800 by the end of the year,” a representative said.
The Department of Environment Affairs has long been the official source of information on rhino poaching and until the end of last year, issued updated statistics on kills and the arrests of poaching suspects monthly. This practice has been stopped by Minister Edna Molewa who indicated rhino kill statistics would “probably” only be issued quarterly.
The 405 kill figure equates to 3.46 rhino a day, in line with the overall average of 3.32 for last year when the South African rhino population was cut by 1 214 animals.
Last month Molewa called a media briefing on steps taken to combat rhino poaching. This was cancelled a day later “owing to conflicting commitments of the departments scheduled to lead the briefing including SANParks, SA Police Service, the National Prosecuting Authority and the Minister of Environment Affairs,” an advisory issued by the department noted. To date it has not indicated a new date for the briefing.
SANParks, which is responsible for the overall management of Kruger, South Africa’s flagship national park, said via Reynold Thakhuli, its General Manager: Media, Public And Stakeholder Relations, anti-rhino poaching operations were ongoing in the internationally renowned game reserve.
The arrest of six suspected rhino poachers in two separate operations late last month brought the total number of arrests in the park during April up to 28.
“The total number of arrests related to rhino poaching for the year in Kruger now stands at 62,” he said adding “SANParks, together with its partners the SA Police Service and the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), is focused on winning this war (against rhino poaching) at all costs. We will leave nothing to chance in protecting our rhino in Kruger and other national parks”.
Elements of the SA Air Force and Army are deployed in Kruger as part of the SANDF border protection tasking, Operation Corona. Assistance is provided, where possible, to the Kruger ranger corps with anti-poaching operations but the military first objective in the park is to ensure its border with Mozambique and Zimbabwe is secure.