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Information provided by South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs

With preparations underway for the upcoming 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17), South Africa’s minister of environmental affairs, Mrs Edna Molewa, has released statistics that reflect a 12% reduction in rhino poaching fatalities countrywide. This and other statistics are included in her statement about the progress made between 1 May 2016 and 31 August 2016 in the implementation of the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros.

rhinos-from-the-air-helicopter-janine-avery
Monitoring rhinos from a helicopter ©Janine Avery

The Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros is the government’s multi-sectoral, interdisciplinary approach involving the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), the South African National Defense Force (SANDF), the South African Police Service (SAPS), South African State Security Agency, Justice and Correctional Services Department, South African National Parks (SANParks), and the provincial conservation agencies.

This approach has allegedly continued to yield success and, at the last briefing held in May 2016, Minister Molewa noted that there are promising signs that rhino poaching is now on a downward trend in South Africa.

Below is a summary of her statement about the strategy’s success thus far:

1. There has been a significant increase in the number of arrests of alleged poachers this year. A total of 414 alleged poachers have been arrested in South Africa since 1 January 2016 – of which 177 were in the Kruger National Park and 237 for the rest of the country. A total of 94 firearms have been seized inside the park between 1 January and 31 August 2016.

2. Training of border officials to detect incidences of smuggling is ongoing, with a joint operation taking place at Cape Town International Airport as well as training of officials at OR Tambo International Airport and Oshoek Border Post.

3. Recognising the critical role that field rangers play in ensuring effective enforcement within the country’s protected areas, the UNEP-GEF Rhino Programme has joined forces with the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) – with funding from the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) – to work on a project to reach more rangers.

This project, which has just commenced, provides specialised training to 1,400 field rangers across South Africa. It focuses on key areas of enforcement, including the proper execution of body/vehicle searches, arrests, the handling of and processing of seized items and the requirements expected of a first responder to a crime scene.

4. “We are pleased to announce yet again, as we did in January and May, that poaching is on the decline in the Kruger National Park (KNP) – the area hardest hit,” says Minister Molewa. Between January and the end of August 2016, a total number of 458 poached rhino carcasses were found in the KNP, compared to 557 in the same period last year. This represents a 17.8% decline in the number of rhino carcasses.

Poaching rates, i.e. the number of carcasses as a percentage of the number of live rhinos estimated the previous September for each year, reduced by 15.5% compared between the same periods in 2015 (9.6% poaching rate) and 2016 (7.9% poaching rate).

Nationally, 702 rhino were poached since the beginning of 2016, whereas a total of 796 rhino were poached between January and July 2015.

NB. There may, however, be indications that the success of anti-poaching efforts in the Kruger National Park has led to poaching syndicates shifting operations to other provinces. In the period under review, the number of rhino poached has increased in a number of other provinces in comparison to the same period in 2015. However, despite these increases there is still a downward trend in the number of rhino poached.

5. Biological management of rhino within smaller South African national parks is also ongoing. The south-western black rhino population in various parks has increased by 17% in the past five years. The south-central black rhino has increased at between 26% and 69% per annum over the past five years at parks other than the KNP.

The movement of rhino to establish strongholds as part of the Rhino Stronghold Initiative is also under implementation, although the persistent drought has affected operations. To date 217 white rhinos have been delivered, with a further 83 outstanding from the original agreements established in 2015.

6. So far during 2016, SANParks have rescued 11 rhino orphans, bringing the total to 38 since 2013. At present 29 rhino orphans remain alive and looked after in rhino orphanages.

7. Communities remain an important part of the Integrated Strategic Management approach.

“Our people are the first line of defence for the animals in our protected areas and they have a critical role to play not just in protecting our wildlife assets, but in growing the wildlife economy to make it more inclusive,” says Minister Molewa.

Steps are being taken in order to create real opportunities for local communities in the conservation and wildlife management space; thus ensuring that they are less vulnerable to exploitation by poachers.

8. With regards to community participation in anti-poaching initiatives, the Environmental Monitors Programme has been particularly successful. There are now a total of 1,460 Environmental Monitors deployed across the country.

In areas facing high numbers of poaching incidents, these monitors have played a demonstrable role through their work of educating communities in the area on the benefits of conservation and rhino protection.

The National Wildlife Information Management Unit (NWIMU) of DEA, in partnership with People and Parks, are working to collate information received from communities on poaching syndicates, poachers and poaching activities.

9. South Africa and Mozambique continue to collaborate through the Joint Management Committee with the aim of disrupting and dismantling criminal syndicates involved in the illegal wildlife trade.

Successful cross border anti-poaching operations have been undertaken with the Mozambican special Police Unit for Natural Resource and Environment Protection.

©Janine Avery
©Janine Avery

In conclusion, the combined efforts of DEA, law-enforcement and the conservation agencies – with the support of international partners and donors, are slowly but steadily making a dent in the rhino poaching numbers.

“What is evident is that these successes can be attributed to the work being done on the ground by our people, our hardworking law-enforcement teams and our rangers in particular,” says Minister Molewa.

“I once again encourage all South Africans to report any wildlife crime that you are aware of so that action can be taken against the transnational organised criminal syndicates involved.”

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