Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife has rejected a call for a specialised police unit to combat rhino poaching in the province.

Durban - Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife has rejected a call for a specialised police unit to combat rhino poaching in the province, saying the number of rhinos poached in KwaZulu-Natal this year was not as high as other provinces.

Radley Keys, the DA’s KZN spokesman on conservation and environmental affairs, said Ezemvelo should concede defeat in the battle against poaching and hand over this task to a team “better equipped” to fight the scourge in the province.

He said the precautionary suspension of a senior Ezemvelo official, after investigations of the “Black September” rhino massacre in Zululand, was proof enough that the conservation body could no longer be regarded as a credible force in the fight against poaching.

The senior conservation manager was suspended by Ezemvelo on Friday.

The body’s executive director of operations, Bheki Khoza, said no official charges had yet been laid, but evidence pointed to negligence on the manager’s part in carrying out his duties.

“Preliminary investigations reveal his absence during the terrible weekend period when rangers found seven carcasses poached in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park,” he said.

But according to Keys, problems within the organisation were “endemic”.

Keys also called for a specialised SAPS unit to be brought into effect to spearhead the battle in the province. “Funding must be allocated so that this unit is able to function at optimal level,” he said.

“The consequence of allowing KZN Ezemvelo Wildlife to continue to lead this initiative, with neither the capacity nor suitability to perform such a task, does not bear thinking about.”

But Ezemvelo spokesman Musa Mntambo said poaching in KZN was not as bad as in other provinces.

“We have developed various strategies to combat the poaching problem, and if we hadn’t done this, the province’s poaching statistics would be much higher,” he said.

“We also work closely with the SAPS in carrying out these strategies, so there is no need for a specialised SAPS unit.”

According to the Department of Environmental Affairs, KZN has lost 57 rhinos to poaching since the beginning of the year – out of a national total of 488.

The province’s total last year was 34, compared with a national total of 448.

Environmental group WWF SA rhino co-ordinator Jo Shaw agreed with Mntambo, saying there was already a national wildlife crime reaction initiative in place, making an additional SAPS unit unnecessary.

On Sunday, the Hawks shot dead an alleged rhino poacher and injured another in the Kruger National Park.

Captain Paul Ramoloka said the Hawks received information about alleged poachers, spotted in the Skukuza area at about 2pm.

“When our team confronted the four men, they opened fire on the police, who returned fire. One of the poachers was killed, another is in hospital [and] the other two were arrested,” he said.

Police confiscated a hunting rifle, axe, saw and sedan used by the alleged poachers. The three men would be charged with attempted murder and being in possession of dangerous weapons, Ramoloka said

“We are still trying to link the suspects with some of the rhino poaching which has taken place in the Kruger National Park over the past week,” he added. - Daily News