THE KZN MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Sihle Zikalala, says the net is fast closing in on poaching syndicates that continue to butcher rhinos in the province.Unveiling the province’s anti-rhino poaching plans at a joint briefing between the Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife held at the Spioenkop Nature Reserve recently, Zikalala said the province is taking the fight to crime syndicates that come from mostly Gauteng and Mpumalanga.“Ezemvelo has strengthened its manpower by recruiting an additional 18 security personnel who will be deployed in 10 rhino reserves.“The province had also partnered with the Department of Environmental Affairs at national level to appoint 412 environmental monitors who have been dispatched to 23 Ezemvelo Protected Areas,” said Zikalala.Even as he decried the number of rhinos that have been killed this year, Zikalala was nonetheless full of praise for communities residing in the vicinity of game reserves who blew the whistle on poachers.“While the number of 172 rhinos killed this year is high, we realise that it could have been much higher had it not been for communities residing in the vicinity of our wildlife parks who alert us to suspicious activity.”In this regard, Zikalala said, co-management agreements have been signed with communities in areas such as Ndumo, Tembe, Okhukho, Hlabisa and Mpukunyoni.“These have resulted in the strengthening of partnerships between Ezemvelo and these communities as we continue to wage a war not only against rhino poaching but also other wildlife crimes in our protected areas.”The function of the monitors is to educate the communities living adjacent to the protected areas of the importance of conservation in general and rhinos in particular. Ezemvelo has also strengthened its own internal controls to ensure that none of its staff members collude with poachers. “We have put in place a number of interventions geared towards proactively making it decidedly more onerous on poachers and syndicates to prey on these beasts.“This includes, but is not limited to, the dehorning of small populations of rhino and taking immediate action against any staff member who is suspected of being involved in poaching syndicates, including, if found guilty, immediate dismissal and criminal prosecution. “A command control centre, the function of which is to manage the deployment of security personnel and information management, has also been established in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park,” Zikalala said. — Supplied.