Picture: Armand Hough/ANA

Johannesburg - South Africa has recorded a decrease in the number of rhinos poached nationally compared to the same period in 2017, with nearly all provinces experiencing dramatic declines this year, the Department of Environmental Affairs said on Friday.
But it was “regrettable” that elephant poaching was mounting at Kruger National Park (KNP).

“Fifty-eight elephants were poached. Specific risk areas have been identified and strategies to address the threat are being adapted and implemented,” the department said.

Between January 1 and August 31, 508 rhinos were poached, compared to 691 for the same period last year.

Rhino poaching numbers in the KNP also continue to fall, with 292 rhinos poached, compared to 332 in the same period last year.

This was despite a dramatic escalation in poacher activity inside the park, ranging from sightings, to poacher camps found, to incursions with a total of 1873 incidents recorded, compared to 1702 last year.

The integration of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife within the SAPS National Operation Rhino, information gathering, operations and case management system was proving to be critical for the decrease in figures in KZN.

The department said since January, about 400 suspects were arrested on a range of charges including rhino poaching. In addition, 13 wildlife traffickers (five Chinese nationals and eight South Africans) were arrested by the Hawks.

“These Level 3 and Level 4 traffickers were en route to China, Hong Kong and Vietnam at the time of their arrests,” they said.

More than 60.92kg of rhino horn was confiscated and linked to poaching crime scenes in KwaZulu-Natal and the Northern Cape.

In the KNP, 162 alleged poachers were arrested, while 145 weapons have been seized in poaching-related incidents both inside and outside the KNP since the beginning of the year; and 83 rhino horn confiscated in the same period.

“It is still of concern that our own personnel are being arrested for rhino poaching-related offences.

“Since January, four officials have been arrested by SANParks enforcement staff in the Kruger for poaching-related offences.

“These include members of the SAPS and the SANDF.

“Since SANParks introduced integrity management throughout the organisation to support ongoing anti-poaching efforts, a number of officials have been dismissed following disciplinary processes,” department said.

“One of the challenges facing new enforcement is that suspected poaching kingpins and syndicate members hide and even dispose of the proceeds of their alleged activities as a result of lengthy trial delays.

“A welcomed development is that a number of rhino poaching-related cases are now being dealt with by the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU),” the department said.

There are 530 rhino poaching-related cases on court rolls, involving 750 accused and 1738 charges.

Close to 300 of those cases are trial-ready.

The charges range from rhino poaching, to rhino horn trafficking and illegal possession of firearms and ammunition.

The integrated initiatives of SANParks to manage its rhino population had varied successes, it said.

“In our rhino parks that are more than 50000ha on average, black rhinos of both sub-species are increasing and they now boast 63 south-central and 199 south-western black rhino.

“White rhino populations in other national parks are also increasing, with 250 counted by the end of last year.

“Last year the black rhino population in the KNP was between 427 and 586 animals.

“SANParks’ Black Rhino Guardian initiative has most likely contributed to halting the decline in black rhino numbers in the Kruger.

“White rhino numbers in the park, however, continued to decline, with the population estimated at between 4759 and 5532 during last year.

“White rhino were affected by the drought - with natural mortalities increasing from 1% to 1.5% while the birth rate dropped from approximately 9% to 5% one year after the drought.”

The Saturday Star