Veil of secrecy over rhino poaching? Molewa must come clean, says DA

2015-03-07 19:01
A black dehorned rhinoceros at the Bona Bona Game Reserve, in Klerksdorp. (Stephane de Sakutin, AFP)

A black dehorned rhinoceros at the Bona Bona Game Reserve, in Klerksdorp. (Stephane de Sakutin, AFP)

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Cape Town - The Democratic Alliance has slammed a government decision to withhold rhino poaching statistics from the public and on Saturday called on Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa to come clean and release the latest figures immediately, or step aside.

DA deputy shadow minister for the environment, Terri Stander on Saturday posted a petition on the global campaign-network, Avaaz, calling on all South Africans who support the right to know, to sign the petition, which she would personally deliver  Molewa.

The petition calls for the minister to publish rhino poaching incidents, arrests and conviction statistics on a weekly basis.

“The department has also ignored repeated requests from politicians and the media, to release latest rhino poaching information.

"We are supposed to be a democracy, and it is every citizen's constitutional right to have access to this information," Stander added.

The department last updated the statistics more than 40 days ago, when Molewa held a media event on 22 January.

'International crisis'

Only then did she announce last year’s record-setting rhino poaching total of 1 215 mortalities, and that 49 killed in January up to that date. Prior to that, previous reporting of statistics by the department was in November 2014. The figure of 1 215 had already been published by unknown sources on 3 January and published on the internet.

“How can we hold government to account and assess the impact of anti-poaching interventions, if we don’t have the information?” Stander asked.

“This veil of secrecy keeps the South African public and the rest of the world in the dark about the scourge of rhino poaching that has become an international crisis.

“The minister’s tendency towards secrecy and misinformation, puts her dangerously on the edge of losing all credibility to save the rhinos from extinction,” Stander said.

At the Environmental Portfolio Committee Meeting on wildlife crime in Parliament on Tuesday, Stander questioned why the department had not released any rhino-poaching numbers in over 40 days.

Molewa replied, saying there was no legislated timeframe to release rhino poaching statistics, and that the department staff’s time was better utilised to pursue other, more important activities.

“They will released quarterly or so," Molewa said.

However, Stander said this left her fuming.

“I find this totally unacceptable. This is a direct assault against transparency and accountability.

“The theme of this year’s World Wildlife Day on Tuesday was titled 'Let’s Get Serious about Wildlife Crime'. How can the minister say she is serious about wildlife crime, if she is preventing the public from being informed?” she asked.

“The statistics are collated by the rhino crime centre unit of SanParks, and sent weekly to the Department of Environmental Affairs.

“All her staff needs to do is publish them on the government department website on a weekly basis to keep the public informed. This must be done in the interests of transparency and accountability,” Stander added.

Increase in gang activity

A sharp increase in rhino poaching gang activity in the first two months of 2015 has raised major concerns that Asian crime syndicates have increased their efforts to decimate the country’s rhino population for their sought-after horns, and that 2015 could be the tipping point in the decline of rhino numbers.

Chris Galliers, chairperson of the Game Rangers Association of Africa, said he was extremely concerned that rhino poaching could surpass last year’s record-setting number of 1 215 pachyderms poached, in South Africa alone.

“What is most worrying is that there is general consensus that the rhino population is in decline and that the tipping point has already been reached.

"Rhino poachers have increased their intensity, and our government leaders, police enforcement and the judicial system need to unite and pro-actively match the advanced level of the poaching syndicates behind the decimation of our rhino.

“South Africa needs to step up its game, or lose its credibility and legacy as a world conservation leader,” Galliers said.

Speaking from Kruger Natonal Park, retired General Johan Jooste echoed Galliers words, saying “the first two months of the year have been rough. If it were easy, we would have called in the boy scouts," he told News24.

"We have to clear the parks from the outside. For that, it is necessary for all law enforcement bodies such as the Hawks and the SAPS to match the commendable efforts of the park rangers, and collapse the organised-crime networks behind the slaughter.

“The victory will only occur in the courts when we put the bad guys behind bars, in numbers,” Jooste said.

Authorities on alert

Nationwide, authorities reported that they had been placed on “high-alert” during the current full moon phase.

While the government has not released the latest official poaching figures, conservation NGOs, and websites have reported as many as 189 rhinos have been killed to date this year, a marked spike over figures for the same period last year.

Approximately 120 plus dead rhino have been slaughtered at the country’s flagship Kruger National Park so far in 2015, where 827 were poached last year.

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife confrmed KwaZulu Natal figures stood at 19 as of today, more than double the figure of eight reported at the end of February last year.

A case of illegal hunting was opened for investigation at the Cramond police station near Pietermaritzburg on Friday after a dead 9-year-old rhino was found poached at a private game farm.

“Both of the rhino’s horns were removed. Our investigations are continuing” said Major Thulani Zwane, spokesperson for the SAPS KZN media centre.

Zwane said the incident was discovered by the farm manager, Rob Wilmot.

A team of investigators including members of the Hawks, DPCI and the stock-theft unit were called to the scene around 14:00 on Friday.

Guards tied up

The investigators and a vet returned to the crime-scene early this morning to perform an autopsy and gather forensic evidence.

In Zululand, anti-poaching units and law enforcement authorities have been on the lookout for four heavily-armed rhino poachers who tied up five rhino-security guards at a privately-owned Hluhluwe game farm last week.

The farm manager, who did not want to be named in the media for fear of becoming a target, thanked Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s renowned rhino management unit team-leader and Zap Wing aerial co-ordinator, Lawrence Munro, plus an eight-man SAPS tactical response team, who responded to his emergency call for assistance.

EKZNW media spokesperson, Musa Mntambo, said Munro initiated an intense follow-up operation, calling in two Zap Wing helicopters to assist at day-break.

“Unfortunately, the suspects evaded arrest after the trail turned cold at an informal settlement near Hluhluwe, called Tin Town, seven kilometres away," Mntambo said.

In Limpopo, game farmers in the Bela Bela district have been on high-alert since Wednesday after authorities received information indicating a poaching gang had been sent to the area specifically to target rhinos.

Limpopo SAPS spokesperson, Colonel Ronel Otto confirmed no new incidents had occurred overnight, but stressed that rhino owners and operation units were continuing to be extra-vigilant during full moon.

The current number of poached rhinos in Limpopo is believed to stand at around 18, with seven poached in the Eastern Cape, 11 or more in Mpumalanga, and at least three dead in North West.

Lethal substances used

In Mpumalanga on Saturday, police confirmed a Phalaborwa man and a Mozambican are in custody for attempted illegal hunting after they were arrested with a heavy calibre .375 hunting rifle near the Manyelethi Game Reserve, close to Bushbuckridge.

The Wilderness Foundation and Eastern Cape farmers this week offered a reward of R150 000 for any information leading to the arrest of poachers who killed two rhino at a luxury Great Karoo game lodge in the Eastern Cape on Monday.

Veterinarian Dr Will Fowlds told News24 the animals had been darted with a lethal chemical-substance before their horns were hacked off by poachers.

He also delivered a dead, unborn calf from its 14-year-old pregnant mother that had been poached together with her 2-year-old bull calf.

“Despite the fact that security measures had been increased at the property, we now know that these criminals are highly organised, well-funded and strategic in their planning of each poaching incident” lodge-owner Iain Buchanan said.

Read more on:    da  |  edna molewa  |  rhino poaching
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