Rhino poachers look to KwaZulu-Natal as Kruger net tightens
Overall poaching numbers have declined but conservation groups warn there are still reasons to be concerned
SA is losing three rhinos a day to poachers‚ despite law enforcement in the Kruger National Park reducing the losses there.
This is according to the rhino poaching statistics released by the Department of Environmental Affairs on Monday.
Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said: "We are pleased to report that our Integrated Strategic Management Approach is yielding the desired results. The 2016 statistics indicate that we registered a decline in the number of rhino poached‚ both for the country as a whole and for Kruger National Park."
A total of 1‚054 rhino were poached in 2016‚ compared with 1‚175 in the same period in 2015‚ representing a decline of 10.3%.
In the Kruger‚ a total of 662 rhino carcasses were found in 2016 compared with 826 in 2015.
"This represents a reduction of 19.85% in 2016. This is despite a continued increase in the number of illegal incursions into the Kruger National Park‚" the minister said.
"For 2016 there were a staggering 2‚883 instances of poaching-related activities (such as poaching camps‚ contacts‚ crossings‚ sightings‚ tracks and shots fired) in the [Kruger] Park‚ compared with 2‚466 recorded in the same period in 2015. This is an increase of 16.9%.
"These criminal gangs are armed to the teeth‚ well-funded and part of transnational syndicates who will stop at nothing to get their hands on rhino horn. This decrease can be attributed to the efforts of our men and women on the ground‚ especially our rangers."
While there has been a decrease in the number of rhino killed for their horns in the Kruger National Park and Mpumalanga‚ the number of rhino poached increased in some other provinces.
Molewa said: "This indicates that syndicates are feeling the pressure from the interventions being employed in the Kruger National Park. We are therefore prioritising these pressure points through enforcement operations."
Molewa also voiced her concern that in 2016‚ 46 elephants were poached in the Kruger National Park.
"The interventions being implemented to counter rhino poaching are also used to respond to this emerging threat‚" she said.
"It is clear that more financial resources are required to address this challenge that we are experiencing in terms of both rhino and elephant poaching."
Commenting on successes in the fight against poaching‚ Molewa said there had been an increase in the number of arrests for poaching-related offences inside the Kruger National Park‚ the area hardest hit by poaching.
"During 2016‚ the SAPS reported that a total of 680 poachers and traffickers were arrested for rhino-related poaching offences nationally. This is a marked increase in arrests from 317 in 2015. Of this number‚ 417 were arrested both within and outside the Kruger National Park."
A total of 148 firearms were seized inside the park in 2016‚ and six just outside the Park‚ she added.
Rhino poaching is a national priority crime‚ with their conservation and protection involving the Department of Environmental Affairs and the South African National Parks (SANParks)‚ the Department of Defence (as a leader of the defence force), the police and the Hawks, the State Security Agency‚ the South African Revenue Service (SARS)‚ the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development‚ and provincial conservation authorities.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF-SA)‚ commenting on the Minister’s report‚ said: "While it is reassuring that the rhino poaching statistics for 2016 show there has been a continued decline in the number of animals that have been illegally killed in SA over the last two years‚ it would be premature to regard this as a reversal in the fortunes for SA’s rhino population.
"The reported reduction of nearly 20% in the number of rhino carcasses found in Kruger National Park to 662 is to be applauded in the face of the increased number of illegal incursions into the Kruger National Park.
"However‚ the apparent decline in numbers of white rhinos within the park must be a cause for concern.
"We note that criminal syndicates have shifted their focus in response to these law enforcement actions‚ and the impacts of poaching have swept across SA. Key populations in KwaZulu-Natal in particular faced this impact in 2016‚ with 161 rhinos killed in that province‚ an increase of 38% from the previous year."
Jo Shaw‚ rhino programme manager for WWF-SA‚ said: "A decade has now passed since the initial upsurge in poaching in SA and huge effort has been invested in rhino protection yet the situation is still out of control and the toll on those working to address the challenge in the region is also unsustainably high.
"Committed conservationists have been defending wildlife at great personal cost. While military-style interventions may provide wins in the short term‚ these come with longer-term financial and socioeconomic costs on both people living around protected areas and other conservation efforts. Ultimately‚ a more holistic approach is required in addressing the drivers of wildlife crime."