EXTRACT FROM THE FOLLOWING THIRD PARTY SOURCE: Written by: Nicolene Smalman for the Lowvelder
It took president Mr Jacob Zuma seven years to visit the Kruger National Park to experience the devastating effect of rhino poaching firsthand.
In 2008 83 rhinos were poached countrywide, 36 of these in Kruger. The scourge had already reached worrying levels by as early as 2010, when 333 rhinos were slaughtered by poachers, 146 of them in Kruger.
Although Zuma had been in Kruger before, this weekend was the first time that he was there for the sole purpose of familiarising himself with the extent of rhino poaching and the efforts being undertaken to curb the massacre.
On Sunday, he witnessed the darting of a rhino cow for the purpose of relocation, visited a rhino-poaching crime scene, partook in a wreath-lying ceremony for SANParks rangers, unveiled the Joint Operations Centre (JOC) and addressed communities bordering Kruger, urging them to put a stop to the pandemic.
Conservation experts are concerned that government is not doing enough to curb poaching. Zuma tried to put the critics at ease, saying that he personally came to Kruger, “to demonstrate the highest level of commitment by South Africa to address this challenge.”
It was a hype of activity in the park as Zuma, accompanied by environmental affairs minister Ms Edna Molewa, acting premier for Mpumalanga Mr Vusi Shongwe, acting premier of Limpopo Mr Jerry Ndou, CEO of SANParks Mr Fundisile Mketeni and other dignitaries travelled through the area to partake in the various activities.
The president was flown around by a South African National Air Force helicopter and was surrounded by several body guards and police officials on the ground. He had already been briefed the night before by SANParks’ anti-poaching team on the latest poaching statistics and efforts, which are being implemented to apprehend poachers.
Activities on Sunday kicked off with the capture of a white rhino cow of about seven years old between Pretoriuskop and Phabeni. Zuma and Molewa assisted veterinary surgeons and other members of the game capturing team to take blood samples from the tranquilised animal.
The president listened attentively as SANParks’ head vet, Dr Markus Hofmeyr, explained the various procedures performed on the animal and shared some interesting facts on rhino. The cow has been named Edna in honour of the minister and is destined to become a foster parent to rhino calves orphaned by poaching.
Zuma’s helicopter then landed at Paul Kruger Gate, to the great amusement of visitors who had been queuing to enter the park. Here, the president was met by Gen Johan Jooste, who heads SANParks’ anti-poaching efforts.
Together they inspected a guard of honour formed by SANParks rangers and partook in a wreath-laying ceremony at the ranger memorial. Jooste explained that, although SANParks was lucky enough not to have lost a ranger to poaching, some of them had lost their lives in the line of duty.
After this the president was taken to a scene where a rhino had been poached about three days previously. The media didn’t accompany him on this leg of the trip.
Zuma also unveiled the Joint Operations Centre at Skukuza. It has been established by the police to coordinate anti-poaching operations by the Departments of Environmental Affairs and Defence, SANParks and provincial conservation agencies. The centre receives all operational information including intelligence, control airspace, command, and utilising such information for law-enforcement purposes.
“We are pleased to announce that joint situational awareness through electronic means and live-streaming of information now informs in-time decision-making, faster reaction and more often proactive operations. This enables us to employ resources more intelligently and to be one step ahead of the poachers and their bosses,” Zuma said.
Regional ranger of special operations, Mr Bruce Leslie and Mr Frik Rossouw, senior investigator for SANParks’ Environmental Crimes Unit showed him some of the gear that rangers are equipped with and demonstrated other technology being utilised in the fight against poaching.
The president finally addressed community members of Bushbuckridge and Nkomazi. 5,000 of them had been driven to the Skukuza Soccer Stadium. Since protest actions are hashtag-driven these days, one was established there and then to spur people to action: #rhinopoachersmustfall.
“The historical proclamation of protected areas came at the expense of people. They were removed from land and were not permitted to visit Kruger. Entire generations grew up without the privilege to spend a night under the stars in rest camps like in Kruger. Communities were once excluded by apartheid, but thanks to the policies of the ANC government, this community will never feel what our parents and grandparents felt to have been treated like third class citizens in their land,” he said.
He added that government now faced a challenge that was threatening this success, which is rhino poaching. “Kruger is the epicentre of the poaching crisis and there are up to three incursions per day. It is clear that the fight we face is huge and brutal. Earlier today I witnessed first-hand the magnitude of this challenge.”
He told the masses that rhino poaching was not just a conservation issue but that it was destroying their livelihoods. The president pointed out that rhino, as one of the Big 5, was vital in maintaining tourism in the area. “Many of you may know who the poachers are. You may know someone who has been offered money to kill an elephant or dehorn a rhino. You may have been approached to undertake such an activity. By blowing the whistle you are not only protecting the species, but also the legacy of your children and grandchildren.”
In light of the fact that most of the poachers who enter the park are from Mozambique, the president said that he had met with Mozambican president Mr Filipe Nyusi last month to review a wide range of bilateral, regional and international matters.
Watch a video of Zuma’s visit to Kruger here:
“One of the areas discussed was collaboration between South Africa and Mozambique in ensuring a coordinated fight against poaching. The South Africa-Mozambique Bi-National Commission, chaired by the two heads of state, was launched. It is a strategic mechanism through which the countries will structure relations going forward.”
Counter-poaching equipment will also be handed over to Mozambique’s Environmental Police later this month to assist in strengthening Mozambique’s environmental law-enforcement efforts.
“Let’s work together to promote and protect our animals. Together, let’s move South Africa forward,” Zuma concluded.