By SA News
South Africa’s Environmental Affairs Minister Ednah Molewa said 749 rhino were lost to poachers so far this year.
The Minister said this when briefing the media on interventions that the department, as well as the rest of the security cluster, have implemented to fight rhino poaching.
“… by Thursday August 27, 2015, the number of rhino we lost to poachers was 749 for the whole country.
“Of these, 544 were poached in the Kruger National Parks,” she said on Sunday.
The Minister said by this time last year, 716 rhino were poached across the country, with 459 of them falling prey to poachers in the Kruger National Park.
“This means that outside of the Kruger National Park, poaching has decreased across the rest of the country – evidence that our law enforcement authorities led by the South African Police Service are playing a key role in stabilising poaching in the rest of South Africa.
“I have constantly emphasized, were it not for the measures we have undertaken as part of the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros the situation would be worse, given the escalation of poacher activity,” she said.
The Minister released the statistics at the back of anti-poaching efforts – which includes pro-active anti-poaching and actionable intelligence strategies as well as implementing conservation measures to ensure that rhino species does not go extinct.
She said government’s anti-poaching efforts were being undertaken in the face of a 27% increase in poachers entering the Kruger National Park to attempt to kill rhino.
She said that during 2015, there have been 1 617 positively identified poacher activities in the Kruger National Park.
This represented three incursions per day anywhere along the thousand kilometre-long Kruger National Park boarder, the Minister said.
She said government’s anti-poaching agencies and rangers have made physical contact with heavily-armed poachers 95 times so far this year, which is closer to three times a week.
“In response to this escalated threat, we have stepped up our efforts, which includes traditional anti-poaching strategies.
“In this regard, the utilization of K-9 units, night capability as well as air and land capability, is now bearing fruit.
“The total number of arrests inside the Kruger National Park was 138 for this year compared to 81 arrests for the same period last year as at 27 August 2015.
“A good example of the outcome of our increased effort was during the month of July when 35 arrests were made in Kruger National alone,” she said.
The Minister also said that government was particularly proud of the work done by law enforcement agencies so far.
“For instance this cooperation led to the arrest of eight poachers in extended operation over 24 hours in the south of the Kruger National Park as part of operation Southern Comfort.
“Two heavy-caliber rifles, ammunition and poaching equipment were seized during this operation,” she said.
She said the Kruger National Park has also received donations of high-tech night vision equipment to the tune of R3.4 million that levels the playing field, and poachers can now also be spotted through thermal detectors.
Plan to step-up conservation
Minister Molewa said President Jacob Zuma would soon launch a long-term plan which aims to conserve the rhino species.
“We aim to strengthen community involvement and participation in conservation through the much-anticipated implementation of the Biodiversity Economy Strategy which will be launched by President Jacob Zuma at the upcoming Biodiversity Economy Indaba.
“At the core of this strategy is a wildlife sector transformation agenda to ensure provision of sustainable alternative livelihood strategies for our communities, which will assist in curbing poaching as well.
“This strategy seeks to promote inclusive economic opportunities, reflected by a sector which will be equitable and dictate fair processes and procedures in the distribution of natural resources and access to markets, and undertaking projects that will assist to uplift the financial and economic status of our people,” she said.