Durban - Poachers could wipe out all of KwaZulu-Natal’s estimated 4 000 rhinos in our lifetime, a wildlife investigator has warned, saying there have been too few arrests and hardly any of the horns have been recovered.
Roderick Potter, a member of the Rhino and Elephant Specialist Group, which has oversight responsibility in South Africa and East Africa, said the threat to rhinos in KZN had increased exponentially every year since 2008.
Potter, who maintains Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s tracking database for all rhino fitted with microchips, raised his concerns in a police statement in the case against two alleged rhino poachers, Jackson John Sithole, 42, of Langaville, and Moses Sibisi, 44, of Ivory Park, who appeared briefly in the Durban Regional Court on Friday.
They were arrested in the Phinda Private Game Reserve in Zululand in February after a shoot-out with members of the Durban Organised Crime and Nyathi anti-poaching units.
Two men with them died in the exchange of fire.
Potter said the situation in Zululand and Maputaland was complicating law enforcement as criminals were easily crossing the borders.
The Department of Environmental Affairs said that as of July 31, 52 rhinos had been poached this year in KZN.
“There are approximately 4 000 rhinos left in KZN and at the current rate of illegal hunting, they may be extinct in the wild within our lifetime,” said Potter.
“The investigation of rhino- related crime suspects is a complicated matter, which isn’t easily achieved.
“There have been fewer than 30 arrests in the province, and only two rhino horns recovered in the last year, despite all efforts from those responsible for addressing this crime wave.”
The department said there had been 165 arrests in South Africa this year - 25 of them in KZN.
Sithole and Sibisi are facing charges of carrying out a restricted activity involving threatened and protected species without a permit, hunting specially protected game without a permit and unlawful possession of a firearm.
Investigators believe the two are linked to numerous rhino-poaching incidents in KZN, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Limpopo.
The case was adjourned until next month for the State to hand over statements and for the accused to consult with their new attorney.
Potter said rhino poaching was a serious economic crime as the cost of replacing a white rhino was about R249 000 - the average cost of the species at the KZN wildlife auction last year.
Black rhino, he said, fetched higher prices - up to double this amount.
“Undercover operations, in my experience, have revealed that a low expected price of rhino horn on the black market is R45 000/kg and there is no open market for rhino horn,” he said.
“High expected prices could be double this amount to a poacher