Pretoria – A total of 363 rhino were poached in South Africa from January to April 2016, Environmental Minister Edna Molewa announced in Pretoria on Sunday.
“During the same period last year, that national figure was 404,” said Molewa in a statement.
However, in terms of poaching incursions – which included attempted and thwarted attempts at poaching – the number increased by 28% to 1 038 in the first four months of this year at the Kruger National Park alone. The equivalent figure for last year was 808.
“This increase translates to an average of nine incursions per day,” Molewa said.
But the actual number of rhino killed in the park was down from 302 to 232 since January until April this year. “We are not claiming victory, but we are claiming success that accounts for the downward trend,” said Molewa.
By far the most poaching took place at the Kruger National Park in the first four months of 2016.
In Kwazulu-Natal, 51 rhino were poached and in Limpopo the number was 30. North West had 15 rhino killed, Mpumulanga, 14, the Eastern Cape, 13, the Northern Cape, five and the Free State, three.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, at least 1 338 rhinoswere poached across Africa in 2015.
Molewa also announced that since January 1, a total of 206 alleged poachers had been arrested. She said the Hawks continued to investigate organised crime enterprises related to wildlife trafficking.
“The Hawks currently have six projects under investigation, four cases on the court roll and 11 major investigations under way in relation to rhino matters," she said.
The court cases involved large syndicates with one case putting 12 people facing 1 840 charges on trial, while another sees 11 accused facing 318 charges and a third attached 73 charges to 10 people with alleged involvement in poaching. The fourth case, involving 22 people, was due in court next month – at which time the final charge sheet would be issued.
Of the 103 accused involved in 49 cases finalised in court between April 2015 and March this year, a total of 80 people were convicted.
Molewa highlighted two successful cases in particular. “In the Makhado Magistrate’s Court in January, six men were found guilty of poaching a rhino on a farm adjacent to the Mapungubwe National Park in Limpopo in July 2014,” she said.
Five were convicted to 15 years in prison and another to 10 years.
“Another successful prosecution was in the Mokopane Magistrate's Court in Limpopo where four men were convicted and sentenced for the poaching of two rhino in the Naboomspruit area in 2013.”
In February this year, the convicted poachers were handed down sentences including effective prison terms of between 14 and 20 years.
They were found guilty of charges including the illegal hunting of rhino, the illegal possession of a prohibited firearm, and the use and possession of the proceeds of crime.
The minister also noted that 1 047 border officials had been trained by the Green Scorpions to deal with poaching – bringing the total number of officials with this expertise to 1 759.
Molewa noted elephant poaching was an “emerging threat”. “[This] is receiving due attention, and internally plans are being adapted to deal with this threat in the Kruger National Park.”
In April this year, cabinet announced that South Africa had dumped its proposal to legalise the international trade in rhino horns.
Opposed to trade in rhino horns
Fin24 reported at the time that Minister for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Jeff Radebe said cabinet approved the recommendations made by the committee of inquiry into the matter “that the current mode of keeping the country’s stock levels be kept as opposed to the trading in rhino horns".
“The country’s strategic approach entails security; community empowerment; biological management; responsive legislative provisions that are effectively implemented and enforced; and demand management.”
On Sunday, Molewa reiterated this decision, saying “commercial international trade consideration” was among the “most contentious” of solutions.
“The evidence base is weak and there is considerable uncertainty regarding the likely success of any of the proposed solutions.”
She said that it was not possible to finalise any trade mechanisms without engaging with trade partners and obtaining agreement from government and other involved parties.
“Furthermore… any potential mechanism to legalise international trade in rhino horn will have to ensure not only a reduction in poaching and the risk of extinction, but also benefit the conservation of free-ranging rhino; secure financing for the expansion of rhino range; address threats in rhino range states and ensure the establishment of governance structures that reduce corruption,” she said.
Under no illusions
Marginalised communities situated in proximity to conservation areas would also need to benefit in order to ensure interest in and protection of rhinos.
As such, the inter-departmental technical advisory committee and the inter-ministerial committee recommended the “application of current policy, with no immediate intention to trade in rhino horn, but maintaining the option to re-consider regulated legal international trade in rhino horn when the key requirements identified earlier are met”.
South Africa would not apply for the opening of a “legal, international commercial trade in rhino horn” at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) at COP17, which it will be hosting in Sandton, Johannesburg from September 24 to October 5 later this year.
On Sunday, Molewa also extended condolences to the family of Kruger National Park ranger, Enos Mabila, who was killed recently. She paid tribute to SANParks ranger, Killers Ubisi, who was wounded while carrying out his duties.
“It is always sad to hear of such incidents. They are a stark reminder of the severity of the threat we are facing.”
Molewa said she hoped that 2016 would be the year in which the tide was turned in terms of rhino poaching. “We are under no illusions of the challenges ahead, but we are confident that slowly but surely, progress is being made.”