All news on rhino poaching in SA national parks will now come from the national government, raising suspicions about further curbs on news of the national rhino poaching crisis.

SA National Parks spokesman Wanda Mkutshulwa issued a statement on Monday that “until further notice all matters related to rhino poaching will be addressed by the Environmental Affairs Department (DEA)”.

“This will include the updates that SANParks has been giving to the media about rhino poaching statistics, all interviews related to rhino poaching and all issues of clarity or information.”

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife chief executive Bandile Mkhize said he was unaware of the policy change and thought it applied to SANParks only.

For the past few months SANParks has been co-ordinating information on national rhino poaching statistics on its website and reporting on the involvement of its rangers in the crisis.

Last week, when The Mercury tried to confirm that the poaching toll had risen to more than 100 rhinos in the past 68 days, Mkutshulwa said: “I would not know. But we are told there are people who keeps tabs on these reports so we are not releasing any other stats. We do it once a month. That is the instruction we have… We will release towards the end of March”.

Responding to the latest change in the rhino information policy on Monday, Mkutshulwa said: “There is nothing sinister to have all rhino poaching media and public issues go through the Department of Environmental Affairs as they have been going through SANParks.

“It is an administrative arrangement which makes sense because this is a national issue. The department will be conducting this matter the same way SANParks has been doing.

Attacks

“We welcome this arrangement because we have been absorbing a lot of attacks from a number of fronts on issues which are beyond our jurisdiction and mandate, because it was thought that if we are reporting on behalf of the country we must have authority beyond national parks.”

The notice to the media on Monday was “a courtesy” to ensure journalists were not frustrated when making inquiries. “It is unfortunate that a simple act of courtesy could give rise to so much suspicion.”

Gareth Morgan, the DA spokesman on environmental affairs, agreed that it made sense for the department to co-ordinate figures nationally.

“However, it makes no sense for SANParks not to be able to communicate on incidents in its parks. Kruger is the epicentre of poaching in South Africa, and SANParks should be talking regularly, not only about what has happened, but also about what it is doing to curb the incidents.

“In reality the blackout on SANParks communicating will not be effective as the leaks from its staff are numerous, and outsiders hear about incidents in Kruger before they are communicated. The move will only create suspicions from a public that is already frustrated by the growing level of poaching.”

The environmental group WWF South Africa did not view the notice given by SANParks as a “rhino news blackout”.

“SANParks is a parastatal charged with managing our national parks, and not mandated to speak on behalf of all the conservation agencies. This is the role of DEA.

“WWF-SA is not affected by this decision and will continue to comment on rhino matters, as we always have.”

Meanwhile, Environment Minister Edna Molewa has confirmed that senior officials of her department would visit China in March to discuss poaching.

Responding to written Parliamentary questions from Morgan, Molewa said new regulations would be published for public comment shortly on ways to clamp down on “pseudo hunts” by Vietnamese and Chinese nationals. - The Mercury