Enviro courts to halt killers

2009-09-15 00:00

PHALABORWA — Since January this year, a “horrendous record” of 84 white rhinos have been killed by poachers in various provinces across the country.

Plans are now being made for the establishment of environmental courts, which will give precedence to environmental and water abuse crimes, and will furthermore be “very strict”.

This statement was made by Buyelwa Sonjica, minister of water and environmental affairs, yesterday in the Kruger National Park at the launch of this year’s South African national parks week.

National parks week means that the public can enjoy free access to the country’s national parks until this Friday.

Sonjica said that of the 84 white rhinos, 33 were killed in the Kruger park, 19 in KwaZulu-Natal, 16 in Mpumalanga, seven in Limpopo, five in the North West, three in Gauteng and one in the Eastern Cape.

“We are not dealing with little boys here (referring to the criminals), but with a merciless mafia. This is orga­nised crime, and it’s difficult to eradicate.”

Since the start of this year, 22 poachers, of which most were foreigner­s, have been caught by the South African National Parks (Sanparks) and the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife organisation. Sonjica said game poaching has increased worldwide.

She said talks and plans in partnership with the minister of justice, regarding the establishment of environmental courts, are at an advanced stage.

These courts must be established because the legal system is “clogged” and can’t handle these cases.

Sonjica went on to announce that Sanparks will be leading an interprovincial team to co-ordinate anti-poaching steps with all stakeholders who want to curb game poaching.

The department of environmental affairs has established a national biodiversity investigation forum for the discussion of law enforcement issues, which includes white rhino poaching.

The Kruger park is part of the Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA) which South Africa shares with Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

TFCAs are expected to benefit these countries, since tourism will add to their gross domestic product, said Sonjica.

She feels South Africa’s natural resources should be better marketed. “Very few South Africans travel here. We don’t know our own country. We stay at home when we’re on vacation. People should be reminded of the importance of exploring the country.”

She suggested public transport to the Kruger park — buses, for instance, should be expanded.

Dr David Mabunda, Sanparks’ chief executive, said national parks week started four years ago.

”We felt that the majority of our people don’t have access (to the parks). We wanted to bring people back to nature.”

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