This week, swift action by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife rangers, supported by SAPS, has resulted in four major successes in the battle against poaching in iSimangaliso Wetland Park.
“iSimangaliso-based Ezemvelo field rangers are commended for their diligence and commitment to the protection of our natural heritage,” says CEO Andrew Zaloumis. “Poaching is a crime that will not be tolerated. If unchecked, not only could it result in the extinction of endangered species in our lifetime, it will also negatively impact local tourism, community jobs and livelihoods. iSimangaliso accounts for 11,300 permanent jobs and has created over 54,000 temporary jobs in the area.”
As South Africa’s first world heritage site, the 220km long iSimangaliso Wetland Park includes 8% of the country’s coastline. iSimangaliso is home to 80 species categorised by the IUCN as rare and/or endemic. Lake St Lucia makes up 80% of South Africa’s subtropical estuarine area. The uMkhuze section of iSimangaliso is a listed RAMSAR site (wetland of international importance) and accounts for over 50% of South Africa’s 829 or so bird species.
Late on 30th June 2015, St Lucia Anti-Poaching Unit field rangers received information that poachers had entered the park in the southern section of Western Shores to check snares that they had previously set. The APU was deployed and assisted by the SAPS Hluhluwe Stock Theft Unit. Three suspects were arrested, who had in their possession four fresh red duiker carcasses, a fresh nyala bull skin and a large quantity of meat. A snare was also found in their possession and it was established that the group had already reset a large number of snares before exiting the park. Furthermore, a leopard tail, a spotted hyena skin and body parts, as well as two nyala female skins were located at one suspect’s homestead. A case was opened at the Mtubatuba SAPS.
During a routine patrol on Monday, 29th June 2015, Ezemvelo field rangers in the uMkhuze section of iSimangaliso came across the fresh spoor of what turned out to be five suspected rhino poachers. The specialist uMkhuze-based APU responded, and whilst following up on the spoor came into contact with the five suspected rhino poachers. With the assistance of the ZAP-Wing aerial anti-poaching team, a hot pursuit followed, but the poachers managed to get away. During a follow-up patrol the next morning, the APU recovered a .375 rifle with a silencer along with an axe and a backpack. The SAPS Hawks were contacted, and although no arrests were made, this is considered a huge success since rhinos were saved and another firearm was removed from the system.
This success follows arrests on Sunday, 28th June of two poachers armed with a .303 rifle and silencer trying to enter iSimangaliso’s Western Shores just off the Mtuba-St Lucia road turn-off to Monzi.
There was further previous success on 25th June when the quick reaction of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s Marine Conservation staff resulted in the seizure of illegal fishing gill nets and poaching equipment in the Lake St Lucia Estuary section of the world heritage site. Gill netting, which involves stringing wide nets across estuaries and rivers to indiscriminately capture fish, is banned in South Africa’s estuarine systems.
At first light, the Conservation Marine Manager, Siboniso Duma, received a call from the local SAPS station regarding a boat that was spotted in the estuary near the Sunset Jetty. Duma immediately notified his colleagues and since the lake’s water level is currently very low, they had to drive around to Dukuduku where they intercepted the suspects. According to Duma, “as they saw the vehicle approaching, the suspects ran away, leaving behind four gill nets with a total length of 1,229m, five white buckets, three of them containing fish and two empty, and one white bag full of fish. The seized fish, totalling 428 specimens of various species, were taken to the St Lucia Crocodile Centre as crocodile feed.”
An additional eighteen illegal boats, which were found hidden in the vegetation along the estuary shoreline within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park boundary were rendered inoperative. In recent weeks it has been reported at the St Lucia SAPS Sector 4 Joint Compliance Committee that these boats, apart from being used for illegal gill netting, have also allegedly been used by perpetrators to cross over the Lake St Lucia estuary to pursue criminal activities in St Lucia town.