The killing of eight more rhinos has forced the government to take serious action. An additional 150 rangers would be deployed to the Kruger National Park this year in an attempt to stop rhino poaching, Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said on Sunday.

They would join the 500 highly trained rangers who already worked in the Kruger. So far this year, 11 rhinos have been killed.

Two poachers have been killed and another two have been detained in connection with rhino poaching in the Kruger this year.

Of the 448 rhinos that were killed last year, 252 occurred in the Kruger, while the 11 killed in January already were also in the park.

Nineteen of the 448 were black rhinos. The species is now almost extinct in South Africa.

Speaking at a media briefing in Pretoria yesterday, Molewa expressed her concern and strongly condemned the ongoing rhino poaching. “The ongoing poaching of our rhino population is a great concern to the government and its various stakeholders. It requires all of us as a collective to take drastic measures to help combat it.”

The chief executive of SA National Parks (SANParks), David Mabunda, said if the poaching was not curbed, the rhino population could be greatly affected by 2015.

Mabunda said the eight carcasses were found near the eastern boundary of the Kruger National Park, near the Mozambican border.

This was the most vulnerable point as the rhinos and other animals could easily be seen drinking at the river.

Mabunda said the Mozambican community that lived across the border were very impoverished and could easily be enticed to participate in organised crime. “Most of the suspects are Mozambican and, of course, some are South African.”

About 57km of the fence along that border had been destroyed and the remaining 150km was “in a very bad condition”.

About R200 million would be needed to protect SA’s rhino, he said, and with the private sector now on board, as well as LeadSA, they could aim to reach that goal.

Molewa said she would meet the Department of Public Works today to discuss erecting a new fence along that route.

They would also meet Mozambican officials to discuss the urgency of the problem.

According to Mabunda, the new fence will be electrified. It’s main purpose would be to serve as an early warning system, he said. “The purpose is not to electrify anyone,” he explained.

The minister said other solutions included the National Biodiversity Investigations Forum, which was recently established, as well as setting up an interim National Wildlife Reaction Unit. She said the department intended to establish it as a permanent unit.

Furthermore, Molewa said she had decided not to effect a “blanket moratorium” on hunting. “There are many factors to be taken into consideration, which include the tourist image of South Africa.”

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) had also returned to monitor the 350km of national border in the Kruger National Park, as well as other country borders.

The Department of Environmental Affairs is also working towards ensuring that at least two facilities – one at a sea port and one at OR Tambo International Airport – are secured, where wildlife officials at ports of entry and exit can inspect and examine wildlife consignments.

Operation Rhino remained a standing agenda item at the National Joint Committee, which comprises senior members of the SAPS, the National Prosecuting Authority and the SANDF, Molewa said.

This committee is responsible for planning and co-ordination as well as implementation of high priority security measures.

“As a result of the effectiveness of the committee and its co-operation, 232 suspects were arrested in 2011 for rhino poaching and related activities.”

Molewa said the department’s efforts on an international level had intensified. “We have, to date, formally and on numerous occasions engaged our counterparts in the Peoples Republic of China and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

“We have managed within this short space of time to prepare the draft of memoranda of understanding on wildlife trafficking enforcement which we hope to sign during the first half of the year. Both these countries have pledged their commitment to partner with us in addressing this scourge.” - Pretoria News