This was revealed on Tuesday at the Didima Lodge in the Drakensberg, where media learnt about poachers’ activities. In a presentation, Cedric Coetzee, head of rhino security at Ezemvelo, said the organisation had the second-most significant rhino population after the Kruger National Park (KNP).
He said poachers were focusing on KwaZulu-Natal because they were feeling the pressure at KNP. This trend began in August last year, Coetzee said.
As of this weekend, 172 rhinos have been killed this year. Of these, 162 were poached at Ezemvelo state parks and 10 in private game reserves.
Coetzee said 99 people were arrested and 39 firearms recovered.
Poaching methods had become more efficient. He said all poaching efforts were co-ordinated and supervised from Mpumalanga and had infiltrated local syndicates for support.
“All poaching is hit-and-run,” he said. These activities were normally done at night and the shooters were well trained and accurate.
Mercedes-Benz and Toyota Quantum minibuses were used in the operations and poachers would travel with a woman to make it look like they were tourists, Coetzee said.
To avoid detection, they often sent false information about poaching activities in one area while they would be poaching at the opposite end, sending rangers on a wild goose chase.
Detailing the financial incentives for poachers, Coetzee said a kilogram of rhino horn was worth R80 000 - an average rhino horn weighed about 7kg. This was the value at a hunt. When it moves along the supply chain, its value shoots up to R135 000 per kilogram, meaning that one horn can cost almost R1million on export.
Once overseas, the value of the horns can inflate as much as six times in China, where it is in high demand.
There were operations to fight poaching, Coetzee said.
These included partnerships with the SAPS, non-governmental organisations and the South African National Parks.
MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs Sihle Zikalala said when faced with heavily armed poachers, “rangers are expected to shoot”.
“We have been under siege from organised and armed criminal syndicates,” Zikalala said.
He said there were plans to set up specialised rhino-poaching courts in the near future.
A rhino crime-combating task team has also been established. It will include Ezemvelo, adding an extra 18 “security personnel” and the introduction of an Intensive Protection Zone (IPZ).
“However, due to the sensitivity of this issue and for security reasons we cannot disclose the zone’s location to the public,” Zikalala said.
Ezemvelo has already started doing integrity testing among staff who were involved in crime investigations.
“Two staff members have already been dismissed, and a case is pending on the third suspect, ” he said.