Durban - The government’s plans to relocate hundreds of rhino from the Kruger National Park in an attempt to curb poaching has received a thumbs-up from the World Wide Fund for Nature.
The WWF was reacting to the announcement by Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa that rhino on the eastern boundary of Kruger would be moved to strongholds around the country to protect them from poachers.
Molewa said the plan had been endorsed by the cabinet when it had discussed the 2013 rhino census. They would be moved to other state-owned provincial parks, private parks and communal areas.
“A decision has been made on translocation. Part of the translocation will include the SADC (Southern African Development Community) area in particular. We have started talking with Botswana and are working on starting talks with Zambia, and are more focused on those two.”
The authorities “could relocate up to 500 rhino, which can each weigh a ton or more”, said SA National Parks (SANParks) ecologist Sam Ferreira. “It depends on the logistical challenges and the seasons.”
Rhino killings have increased from 13 in 2007 to 1 004 in 2013, showing no signs of decline despite the deployment of soldiers in Kruger.
Speaking at the briefing, Ferreira cited two reasons for relocation of the animals: to put them out of reach of poachers, and to stimulate growth in number. “Translocation is the backbone of South Africa’s rhino conservation, and relocations from the Kruger National Park and the creation of rhino strongholds could allow the total rhino population size of South Africa to continue to grow.”
At least 613 rhinos have been poached in South Africa since January; of those, 408 were in Kruger.
The WWF’s rhino programme manager, Dr Jo Shaw, said the key to the success of a translocation strategy was good biological management. “It is important to also provide security and monitoring tools in the areas where the animals are moved to.”
There are thought to be between 8 400 and 9 600 white rhino in Kruger. Molewa said there would be an “intensive protection zone” which would reduce the blight of poaching. The zone would contain hi-tech security advances which would protect the core population of the species and make it difficult for poaching to take place.
The national police commissioner, General Riah Phiyega, said a team of detectives trained in wildlife crime investigations, forensics experts, the SAPS airwing, the flying squad and dog unit would assist the SANParks Board with current investigations.
“This additional team will attend to all outstanding and new crime scenes and continue to do proper crime scene investigation and management. During the past two weeks this multi-disciplinary team visited several scenes where rhino were killed.”
She also said police units were pursuing rhino poachers into Mozambique. “Yes, we have a hot pursuit agreement, meaning that when somebody crosses the border, we do have an agreement with Mozambique to follow through.”
Meanwhile, six suspected poachers were arrested in Kruger on Sunday. Two were recovering in hospital after being wounded in a shoot-out with rangers. SANParks spokesman Reynold Thakhuli said three high calibre hunting rifles, poaching equipment and two pairs of rhino horn were recovered. “Four men were taken into custody and two are being guarded by police in hospital. As soon as they recover from their injuries, they will appear in court.”