SA takes the fight to rhino poachers


    1 February 2013

    While 57 rhinos have been killed by poachers in South Africa this year, 18 suspected poachers have been arrested and three fatally wounded as the authorities step up their enforcement activities.

    Forty-two rhinos were poached in the Kruger National Park, six in KwaZulu-Natal, six in North West, two in Limpopo and one in Mpumalanga province, according to the latest data released by the Department of Environmental Affairs.

    The department cited the recent floods in the Kruger National Park, thick summer vegetation, two weeks of a full moon, and aggressive incursions from Mozambique as some of the factors contributing to the spike in poaching.

    Despite the floods that have left large parts of the park inaccessible to vehicles and rangers on foot, the area was still being patrolled with the assistance of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.

    Eleven of the 18 suspected poachers arrested this year were arrested in the park, while three were arrested in Limpopo province following a tip-off about their activities in Kruger, and two were arrested in North West province.

    Despite increased incursions from Mozambique, particularly in the Limpopo Transfrontier Park region in the north of the Kruger National Park, South African National Parks (SANParks) CEO David Mabunda said their anti-poaching operations were starting to yield results.

    “We bled in December, but as of January 1 there has been a change in strategy from a conservation management system to greater law enforcement, and this is working,” Mabunda said. “Our operations are more militaristic. The number of poachers arrested has increased inside and outside the park.”

    Six suspected poachers were arrested and seven rhino horns recovered, along with heavy calibre hunting rifles, ammunition and poaching equipment, during three operations in the Kruger National Park on 18 and 19 January.

    Since last Friday, a further six suspected poachers had been arrested and two fatally wounded by South African and Mozambican authorities. All were armed.

    Last week, anti-poaching operatives in the Houtbosrand section of the park were involved in a shootout with two suspected poachers at the site of a freshly killed rhino.

    One of the suspects was fatally wounded, while the other managed to escape back to Mozambique. A heavy calibre hunting rifle, ammunition and the rhino’s horn were recovered.

    An intelligence-driven operation on same day resulted in the arrest of two more suspected rhino poachers by the Mozambican authorities inside Mozambique, adjacent to Houtbosrand.

    The group was allegedly on its way to the Kruger National Park when its members were arrested. A heavy calibre rifle and ammunition were recovered.

    And this Wednesday, joint forces were again involved in a shootout with armed suspected poachers in the Houtbosrand area.

    One of the suspects was wounded and arrested, while his two accomplices managed to escape back to Mozambique. A heavy calibre hunting rifle and ammunition were recovered.

    The Department of Environmental Affairs has congratulated SANParks’ anti-poaching units, the police and the South African National Defence Force for their recent successes.

    South Africans are urged to report any information or tip-offs that they may have in relation to rhino poaching to the anonymous tip-off lines 0800 205 005, 08600 10111, or CrimeLine on 32211.