Johannesburg - The Environment Affairs Minister Dr. Edna Molewa on Thursday said some 1,346 Environmental Monitors have been deployed in rhino poaching hotspots to assist with environmental protection.
Molewa, who was giving an update on progress in the implementation of the integrated strategic management of Rhinoceros, said the monitors will be further empowered to become "Rhino Ambassadors" in these hotspots.
The management of rhinos is centered around combating poaching.
"Today’s report back will cover the following thematic areas in line with the integrated strategic management approach, namely compulsory interventions, managing rhino populations, long-term sustainability interventions and new interventions – all of these within the context of national and international cooperation," said the environment minister.
Molewa said compulsory interventions include the creation of an Intensive Protection Zone (IPZ), which she added "allows us to allocate limited resources to ensure maximum protection in areas of greatest importance".
The minister said: "In our last briefing we reported that an IPZ had been established in key reserves in KwaZulu-Natal province and that we were investigating rolling it out in other provinces. I am pleased to report that an IPZ has since been established in the Eastern Cape".
She said technical guidelines have been developed on the implementation of a restorative justice programme, which is aimed at ensuring that rhino poachers become either Rhino Ambassadors or perform community service.
In addition there were new interventions as well as national and international cooperation. Resourcing had also been made available for anti-poaching and rhino security initiatives
Molewa, who was flanked by State Security Minister Bongani Bongo – and joineds via videolink from Cape Town by Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, reiterated that "rhino poaching is a national priority crime" which was being tackled by various departments..
She said there has been progress in a number of areas, including arrests, investigations and successful convictions of rhino poachers and smugglers, as well as the stepping up of technological and other interventions within our joint operations.
"We have initiated a patrol optimisation programme in our Parks. This is the intelligence-driven allocation of patrol resources into high risk poaching areas said the minister.
She said the Patrol Optimization Program, which began in the Balule Game Reserve with the all-female Black Mamba anti-poaching unit in 2016, has since been successfully expanded into six other rhino reserves.
"A strategic partner in our anti-poaching team is the South African National Defence Force who are crucial in assisting with border integrity and providing support to the SAPS and our rangers. These joint operations are coordinated in the Mission Area Joint Operations Centre."
Molewa said some of the success was as a result of the use of game-changing technological interventions, which are key in the fight against poaching.
"The new technology system that we are using now is at the cutting edge of integrating real-time technology, intelligence, situational awareness and analysis and is operational in the Kruger National Park (KNP)," explained the minister.
"This tool assists rangers, protected areas managers, investigators and law enforcement agencies and government organisations to combat wildlife crime more effectively. It has been proven to be an extremely effective tool. We are rolling it out to the rest of the country."
Molewa said the government had seen the successes of Operations Rhino (1 to 7), which are essentially coordinated anti-poaching operations that involve all the relevant security agencies.
"Our security-related anti-poaching efforts are being led by the SA Police Serive, DEA, SA National Defence Force, Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, SA Revenue Service (SARS), the Financial Intelligence Centre and the State Security Agency"
She said in the reporting period, 502 alleged rhino poachers and 16 alleged traffickers were arrested nationally, bringing the total figure to 518. This represents a decrease from 2016 when a total of 680 poachers and traffickers were arrested.
At the Kruger National Park (KNP), the number of arrests of alleged poachers stood at 446 in 2017 – this comprises 189 arrested inside the KNP, and 257 adjacent to the Park. This represents an increase compared to 2016 when 417 were arrested inside and adjacent to the KNP.
As many as 220 weapons were seized in rhino-related incidents both inside and outside the KNP in 2017.
Between 1 April 2017 and 31 December 2017, the Hawks arrested 16 level three to four (courier/local buyers and exporters) wildlife traffickers of South-East Asian, South African, Mozambican, Zimbabwean and Kenyan origin – and confiscated 168,46kg of rhino horn. Given the complexities of these syndicates we regard this figure as a significant achievement.
Two Taiwanese rhino horn traffickers were arrested by the Royal Swaziland Police and a total of 34, 96 kg of rhino horns were seized between the two countries.
The horns are linked to a rhino poaching incident at Balule Game Reserve, Hoedspruit in January 2017, as well as rhino poaching incidents in the North West Province and KZN.
The Hawks testified in this matter during the bail application in Swaziland and were successful in opposing the bail application. They also assisted with further investigation and supported the trial.
The two Taiwanese nationals were sentenced to 29 years imprisonment plus compensation.
Coordinated efforts between government departments have resulted in the dismantling of 35 trafficking networks linking the transit countries of Swaziland, Mozambique, Namibia and Kenya to the end-user countries in Asia.
"With regards to the detection of horn at ports of entry and exit, our Environmental Management Inspectors (EMI’s) or Green Scorpions continue with their work at OR Tambo International Airport and assist among others the SARS and SAPS with cases where illegally traded rhino horn have been detected," said Molewa.
During 2017 there were eight seizures of rhino horn at OR Tambo International Airport (ORTIA).
"Our first case at ORTIA of 2018 involved the arrest of a South-East Asian national in early January hiding three rhino horn pieces of approximately 4kg in a wine box."
The woman has been charged with illegal possession of rhino horn and exporting without a CITES permit. She has been granted bail of R150.000 and the case has been postponed to mid-February 2018.
The minister said the Green Scorpions also play an important role in court proceedings where they regularly testify in aggravation of sentence in rhino related cases.
South Africa fcontinues to formally request DNA samples from illegally traded horn confiscated abroad.
African News Agency/ANA