12 poaching groups in Kruger at any given time - minister

2015-08-30 20:00
(File, AFP)

(File, AFP)

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Johannesburg - There are 12 active rhino poacher groups in the Kruger National Park (KNP) at any given time, with 749 rhino killed across South Africa thus far in 2015, Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said on Sunday.

Briefing media on progress in stopping rhino poaching in Pretoria, Molewa said so far this year, there had been over 1500 poacher incursions recorded in the Kruger National Park, a 27% increase compared to last year.

"So far during 2015, there have been 1617 positively identified poacher activities in the KNP. This implies that 3 incursions occur per day, anywhere along the thousand kilometre long KNP border," the minister said.

"This means that there are 12 active poacher groups at any given time somewhere on the two million hectares of the KNP. That is why our teams have made physical contact with heavily-armed poachers 95 times so far this year, close to three times a week."

She said if were it not for the anti-poaching teams in the park, the numbers would be far higher.

"To illustrate the escalation of the threat, let me remind you that for the whole of 2014, there were 111 contacts with heavily-armed poachers," she said.

Government have stepped up anti-poaching measures as a result.

"The total number of arrests inside Kruger National Park was 138 for this year compared to 81 arrests for the same period last year as at August 27 2015," Molewa said.

The challenge of poaching required the collective efforts of government, the private sector, communities, civil society and the business sector.

Bearing fruit

In terms of intensive protection zones for rhino, the minister said, as stated earlier in the year, the zoning approach embarked on in the KNP was bearing fruit.

"We have now reached the stage where night airborne reaction with well-equipped anti-poaching rapid response forces is being implemented - a unique world class capability for a park," she said.

"In this regard, the KNP has received a donation of top-of-the-range monocular night vision equipment valued at R3.4m from the Peace Parks Foundation to support the ranger corps. The receipt of this equipment has contributed to a levelling of the playing field - as poachers become more and more sophisticated."

The Mission Area Joint Operations Centre in the KNP was fully functional, with electronic means and "live-streaming of information" informing real-time decision making and faster reaction time.

"Be that as it may, by Thursday August 27 2015, the number of rhino we lost to poachers was 749 for the whole country," the minister said.

"Of these, 544 were poached in the KNP. By last year this time the number of rhino lost to poachers were 716 for the whole of the country and 459 for the KNP."

Beyond the KNP, poaching had decreased across South Africa.

This was evidence law enforcement authorities, led by police, were playing a key role in stabilising poaching in the rest of South Africa, Molewa said.

Regarding the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP17), the minister said her department invited interested parties to register to participate in preparations for the summit. COP17 is being held at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg from September 24 to October 5 next year.

Rhino horn trade

On the feasibility of whether or not it was possible for there to be a trade in rhino horn, Molewa said with committee of inquiry set up to investigate the matter, it was conducting its work and would report back in due course.

Molewa said during the department's May report-back, they had gazetted the Biodiversity Management Plan for white rhino for public consultation.

"The plan is aimed at ensuring the long-term survival in nature of the species through the implementation of conservation management measures," Molewa said.

"Parts of the plan are already under implementation. As I announced in my May briefing, a number of animals would be sold to the private sector as part of our interventions to increase rhino numbers."

SANParks had begun the translocation and delivery of white rhino from the Kruger National Park to private land owners, with 150 to be delivered over the course of 2015.

"As part of evaluating the effects of sales and poaching, SANParks will conduct another rhino survey during September 2015. During September 2014, a Rhino survey using peer-reviewed scientific methods recorded 8 001 to 9 290 white rhino in the Kruger National Park," the minister said.

"Elsewhere in South Africa, the African Rhino Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reports that provincial reserves have 4 400 white rhino while private owners have 5 300."

The total South African white rhino population remained relatively stable since 2012, in the face of escalating poacher activity.

"As you all know, as poachers go for the bigger animals, young ones are left orphaned; and we continue to take care of these rhino," Molewa said.

"Since 2012 a total of 26 orphaned rhinos have been rescued from the KNP; eight of these were during 2015. These orphans will ultimately be released as part of family groups in semi-intensive and free-ranging areas."

Read more on:    pretoria  |  animals  |  poaching

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