Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife authorities are stocking up on an arsenal of assault rifles and hi-tech gear in what is believed to be the biggest offensive to date against rhino poachers.
With a R47 million cash injection over two years from the provincial treasury, Ezemvelo’s shopping list includes thermal imaging and night vision equipment, 60 R1 semi-automatic combat rifles, a new helicopter, and long-range cameras in the bush. It will also set up an anti-poaching unit, buy mobile units for extra staff, and spend R1m on an intelligence system.
Ezemvelo chief executive, Bandile Mkhize, told the provincial legislature’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) on Thursday that they could no longer combat rhino poaching using “outdated methods”.
Eight rhinos have been killed in KZN since the beginning of the year, with 66 of them butchered for their horns last year. Countrywide, 82 rhinos have been poached since January 1.
“It is even tougher to deal with these criminals (poachers), and what makes it worse is that the people involved in this crime have lots of money,” Mkhize said.
Of the R47m granted to the conservation entity in November, R28m will used in the current financial year ending next month, and the remaining R19m will be used in the 2013/14 financial year.
Being required to spend R28m in just four months was a “tall order”, Mkhize said. But plans were in place to ensure the money was well and properly used. Already R14.5m of the funds were committed in January, with a further R8.3m to be spent this month.
Ezemvelo will use R4.3m on thermal imaging and security equipment, R671 000 to set up the anti-poaching unit, and R700 000 on mobile units.
Mkhize said he hoped by the end of next month there would be a noticeable difference in terms of the approach to fighting rhino poaching. He told the legislature yesterday his department had already started the process of procuring the R1 rifles, costing an estimated R1.9m, that would be issued to field rangers in rhino reserves.
Mkhize said the existing firearms were outdated. Ezemvelo, which currently hires two helicopters, also wants to have one of its own
Other interventions to be undertaken over the next 14 months include:
* Buying 31 new vehicles to replace its ageing fleet.
* Spending R3.3m on a massive communications drive, which will include a billboard advertising campaign. TV ads featuring Environmental Affairs and Agriculture MEC Meshack Radebe are already running.
Hiring 100 locals from communities around game reserves as anti-poaching “ambassadors” and paying them R2 000 a month.
* Strengthening intelligence gathering methods, with about R600 000 being set aside to pay informers.
* Starting horse patrols, and the installation of a long-range camera and observation operation room in Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park. This would cost about R270 000 in the current financial year.