File photo: Independent Media
File photo: Independent Media

Progress in nailing rhino poachers

By Ntando Makhubu Time of article published May 11, 2015

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Pretoria - The war against rhino poaching will be won as strategies to attack the crime itself and the masterminds behind it roll out - and on Sunday strategic partners said their plans were showing positive rewards.

Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said the increased number of arrests were an indication of progress although there was an increase in the overall number of rhino poached in the past year.

“What is encouraging is the increase in the number of arrests recorded this year.

“But about 393 rhino had been lost to poaching by the end of April this year, an increase from the 331 during the same period last year.

A total of 290 of rhino poached this year were from the Kruger National Park (KNP), the figure for the same period last year had been 212, she said.

“As at the end of April last year, a total of 96 people had been arrested for poaching. By the end of April this year 132 people were arrested for rhino-poaching related activities,” the minister said.

Sixty two poachers had been arrested in KNP.

Molewa and other stakeholders in the fight against rhino poaching on Sunday gave an update on progress made in the implementation of the integrated strategic management approach, launched in August last year.

Partners in the plan include the South African Police Service, State Security Agency, the National Prosecuting Authority, the SANDF and Home Affairs.

Others are the departments of International Relations, Transport, Finance and Rural Development and Land Reform, Communications, provinces and the private sector.

Hawks Lieutenant-General Elias Mawela on Sunday confirmed their commitment to ending the scourge of rhino poaching, saying a lot of work was being done to bring down the masterminds themselves.

He said: “We are dealing with the actual issue. Our targets are the people who plan the attacks.”

Mawela said the partnerships would ensure the issue of rhino possibly going extinct would be a thing of the past.

“We are fighting it from the top. Others are attacking the middle while others are working on the ground,” he said.

National police commissioner, General Riah Phiyega said their own officers who participated in rhino poaching activities were not spared prosecution.

“We take the fight against rhino poaching very seriously - we even arrest our own,” she said.

Giving /examples of police officers who had been caught during investigations and undercover stings, Phiyega said the arrest and conviction of more people involved in rhino poaching activities was important.

Intense focus inside the Kruger National Park and vigilance outside had led to arrests and the confiscation of horns and tools used in harvesting the horn.

She said 16 firearms, 99 live rounds of ammunition, nine vehicles, 13 rhino horns and 27 axes and knives had been recovered outside the park within the first four months of the year.

Molewa said 192 rhinos have been translocated to intensive protection zones nationally and outside the country, while the sale of the white rhino to private buyers was at an advanced stage.

“Proceeds from the sales will be allocated to a ring-fenced fund that will be ploughed back into conservation programmes,” she said.

Technology was also being used as a tool to combat rhino poaching, she said.Airbus helicopters with night flying capability were being used by SANParks, increasing response time. “The improved aerial support to the rangers on the ground, and the increasing capacity of the canine unit have assisted in improving the effectiveness of the anti-poaching operations in the Kruger National Park,” the minister said.

Phiyega said 701 dockets had been opened, eight convictions achieved in recent months, and police officers had attended to 692 crime scenes.

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