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SA National Parks chief David Mabunda has appealed to politicians, church leaders and traditional leaders to join the war against the “bloodsuckers” and “wolves in sheep’s clothing” who are decimating the country’s rhino population.
Speaking at a passing-out parade yesterday for nearly 50 new rangers deployed to beef up anti-poaching operations in the main rhino-poaching hot spot in Kruger National Park, Mabunda said he could not offer the new rangers a bed of roses when there was a low-intensity war under way with poachers armed with weapons of war.
“We cannot offer you a double bed and duvet cover, but a sleeping bag in a tent with your R1 rifle acting as a pillow… and we cannot and will not surrender to the narrow, selfish interests and greed of those who are killing our rhinos.”
He was confident that SA National Parks and other conservation agencies would defeat the current wave of poaching, which led to the illegal killing of more than 440 rhinos last year and more than 280 in the first seven months of this year.
“Go and arrest them and bring them to justice screaming. Look out for the wolves that are dressed in a lamb’s skin among yourselves. We call upon our local government, religious and traditional leaders to join hands with us in fighting this scourge,” said Mabunda.
“Poachers are building new big and posh houses in our residential areas while they are unemployed. They are seen cruising in new cars on our dusty roads living a high life. We want good role models for our children, not bloodsuckers! This madness must stop and it starts with every one of us in taking a firm stand and uniting against poaching.”
Mabunda said the 49 new rangers were the first of a group of 150 extra rangers being recruited and trained to combat rhino poaching in a park the size of the Netherlands.
He noted that SANParks now had 334 rangers patrolling the park, but ideally there should be between 600 and 700 rangers to patrol the 2 million-hectare park.
“We hope to reach these numbers in the next three to four years at a cost of R250 million per annum.”
However, Mabunda noted that state funding for the parks agency had declined from about 50 percent of the annual parks budget in the 1950s to just 13 percent of the budget today.
“The reality is that our resources are not unlimited… the state grant has been reduced by R400m over the last four years in cutbacks like the rest of other state departments and public entities,” he said, defending the agency’s recent programme to expand tourism and hotel accommodation in the park.
“Every day, 11 000 people go to work in a national park somewhere in our country. If tourism were to stop, the entire system would collapse,” he said in response to a letter published in a Joburg newspaper criticising tourism expansion plans and the performance of SANParks.