File picture: Rogan Ward/Independent Media

Pretoria - The poaching of smaller game is proving to be the bane of authorities at Dinokeng Nature Reserve, north of the city.

Director of the new Ritsako Game Lodge at the nature reserve, Joseph Zinyana, said this was attributable to hunger, lack of education and the absence of basic services in the neighbouring communities.

According to Zinyana, these issues were driving communities around Dinokeng Nature Reserve to break down fences, lay snares and catch game, and use the meat to feed their families.

“Nature reserves across the country are buckling under the strain of poachers who kill animals to sell overseas.

“However, here at Dinokeng we have poaching of a different nature; people who put traps and kill springboks and other smaller game to eat,” he told the Pretoria News.

He and the other directors of the new establishment said there was a need to develop communities in order to bring an end to these problems.

“Unemployment is high and that is a reality.

“People are hungry and they have to devise a means to survive,” said another director, Jack Madzivhandila.

He said education and involving communities in wildlife business, and providing them with employment and other opportunities that came from tourism could solve the problem.

“We have on our staff people from the communities around us.

“We have sourced all the material to build our lodge from businesses in the area and the spin-offs from that have been immeasurable,” said Madzivhandila.

The deliveries of material to the site of their establishment were made only by local people, and as such they had created a "chain of benefits to empower and uplift the lives of the community”.

Guided and self game drives are on offer from some of the lodges at Dinokeng, while others have outsourced the service to those with facilities, human resources and vehicles.

But to the communities which lie around the reserve, the smaller animals and aspects of the natural flora and fauna formed the biggest attraction.

A resident who asked not to be named said: “Apart from the meat, we go into Dinokeng for firewood and to get the natural plants to use as herbs.

“Lions are not something we worry about,” he said.

His companion added: “Firewood is another important natural element we need, and it is found within the boundaries of the reserve.

“We don’t have electricity or money to be buying products like paraffin, so the only option is firewood.”

The country is struggling under the staggering and ever-increasing numbers of poachers, which at the last count had led to about 2 000 wildlife deaths across all sectors of the Big Five - lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and Cape buffalo.

Poachers have been sneaking into reserves across South Africa and mowing down the Big Five, with the rhino being the hardest hit.

Despite attempts by environmental stakeholders to curb the activity, poachers have continued to go into secluded and open animal enclosures and kill rhino and elephants for various reasons, leaving the wildlife sector scrambling for answers.

Close to 600 rhino had been poached by the middle of this year.

Elephants, lions and other animals are also perishing at the hands of poachers, and while numbers are not readily available from the different sets of statistics, they are high.

Reserves have admitted to being overwhelmed by poaching, but the concentration has largely been on the bigger game, whose parts sell for millions in foreign currency.

Madzivhandila said: “Participation in committees is our strong point.

“We sit in on committees that manage the whole area.

“Some of the issues that have been discussed include strengthening borders of the reserve and keeping people out and animals in.

“We know we have to find means to develop the communities around us so they do not need to break down fences and fetch firewood.”

He said the committee was working with government, the City of Tshwane and tourism authorities to create resources which would empower the people.

“We have to reach a stage where people have water and electricity as well as knowledge and skills to understand that poaching is not the answer,” he added.

Pretoria News