Pretoria - Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment Barbara Creecy yesterday announced a breakthrough in the battle against rhino poaching.
Creecy released a report highlighting the department’s progress in safeguarding endangered creatures, especially rhino.
In the first six months of 2023, 231 rhinos were killed in South Africa. These figures represented an 11% decline of 28 animals that were killed for their horns, compared to the same period last year.
According to the department, between January 1 and June 30 this year, poaching trends continued to show a move away from the Kruger National Park (KNP) to provincial and private reserves.
The minister’s report, presented during a briefing at the headquarters of the South African National Parks in Pretoria, showed a substantial decrease in rhino poaching numbers over the past few years.
In the KNP, 42 rhinos were poached, and 143 in KwaZulu-Natal from January to June 2023. In privately-owned nature reserves, 46 rhinos were killed, and 143 were killed in provincially-owned reserves.
Creecy emphasised the importance of developing and strengthening collaboration between the role players in order to effectively address the organised nature of rhino poaching and wildlife trafficking.
“This strategy aims to break the illicit value chain of wildlife trafficking in South Africa and beyond its borders. It represents a commitment by government to direct law enforcement ability and effort and mobilise society support to address the threat wildlife tracking poses to national security and the country’s rich biodiversity.
“Although, currently, our main focus is rhino, the strategy also aims to address the illegal trade in, and poaching of, other species threatened by trafficking syndicates, like abalone,” she said.
Creecy also commended the collective efforts of rangers, law enforcement agencies and conservation organisations that have played a crucial role in making this progress possible.
In the first six months of this year, investigations by the SAPS and the NPA have led to the convictions of 31 offenders. Most sentences were custodial.
In Skukuza, one suspect was found guilty of killing a rhino and possession of unlawful arms and ammunition and was sentenced to an effective 32 years’ imprisonment.
In another matter, three accused, found driving in the KNP with five rhino horns hidden in the vehicle, a hunting rifle with a silencer, ammunition and knives, were convicted for the killing of three rhinos in the park, possession of unlawful firearms and ammunition, possession of dangerous weapons and trespassing. Accused one and two were sentenced to 34 years’ imprisonment, while their third accomplice was sentenced to 39 years.
However, as climate change poses a new threat to wildlife habitats, there is a need for sustainable conservation practices and investments in preserving rhino habitats, such as addressing the root causes of poaching, which could be poverty and lack of economic alternatives in local communities.
To ensure the safe passage of tourists to the KNP, SA National Parks has joined a task team championed by the Deputy Minister of Tourism, Fish Mahlalela, in collaboration with the traditional leaders of adjoining communities, the SAPS and private security companies to ensure constant patrols along the identified hot spots en route.