The rhino poaching war in KwaZulu-Natal has reached new levels of intensity, with almost 55 poaching attempts in local reserves each month.
Wildlife rangers and KwaZulu-Natal security agencies detected 93 rhino poaching incursions in May alone – more than three attempts each day.
Although most attempts were foiled, 13 rhinos were killed that month.
Ten days ago, Ezemvelo also found eight dead or wounded rhinos in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park.
As a result, Ezemvelo is now experimenting with several new strategies and sophisticated technology to halt the onslaught.
“We can’t reveal much about these strategies, but we are almost at tipping point, where the rate of deaths overtakes the birth rate. Once that happens it’s the road of no return,” said acting chief executive David Mabunda
“The details are not available for distribution, but the technology allows rangers access to real-time data about whether the animals are being poached and immediately sends out alerts in the event that a rhino is dehorned.
“This technology is designed to dramatically revolutionise the fight against poachers by reducing reaction time and allowing the scene to be pinpointed with greater accuracy.”
Other security measures included better access control, enhanced surveillance and top-of-the-range digital communication systems.
But he acknowledged there were problems securing a helicopter surveillance service. Three service providers had responded to recent tender invitations but had not been able to meet Ezemvelo’s specifications.
Mabunda said the agency hoped to invite tenders for a 12-month helicopter surveillance contract before the end of the month. In the meantime, Ezemvelo was exploring the option of acquiring its own small fleet of helicopters.
“Choppers are not a panacea to rhino poaching, but you need them for quick response and also for intelligence-driven operations.”
Mabunda also urged the courts to impose much heavier sentences on rhino poachers.
He noted that criminal prosecution of Dawie Groenewald and several other rhino horn suspects had not been finalised four years since the initial arrests. Instead of firearms, several recent poaching cases in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi now involved the use of dart guns and tranquilliser drugs.
He also acknowledged alleged rhino horn trader and former Ezemvelo trail ranger Bheki Msweli had been killed in a skirmish with wildlife and security agencies in Thanda private game reserve about two weeks ago. “The individual you mention had been tagged previously,” said Mabunda, adding that all staff involved in rhino operations had to undergo integrity testing.