‘Send in the army’: Rhino population decimated by highly organised poachers

Rhino poachers are heartless and kill every rhino they see – young or old, hornless – just to get rid of them from the reserve and “try and make their job easier”, should they come back.

This is according to Wildlife spokesperson Ezemvelo Musa Mntambo.

This week, Forestry, Fisheries and Environment Minister Barbara Creecy said KwaZulu-Natal recorded the loss of 133 rhinos in the first half of the year – more than triple the 33 rhinos killed in the first six months of 2021.

Mntambo said rhino poaching is a big issue that needs to be addressed and they need all the help they can to fight the crime.

In the past, we’ve had communities that have helped us try to combat rhino poaching, but now it’s just us. Sometimes, however, the SAPS comes and helps us patrol inside the parks and the outskirts as well, and we are very grateful for their help… We had an incident where a female rhinoceros was shot and her calf was next to it, and as so they shot the calf – not because of its horn as most of the time there is no horn since it is still small, but because the calf was fighting them for the horn of the mother rhinoceros.

Mntambo said they suspect that poachers work with members of the local community who know the area and
although they sometimes get tipoffs, it’s hard to know where they might be coming from because the fields are big.

It’s usually three, four or five groups of people, using anti-matter rifles. They come with a vehicle and
park outside, cut the fence, climb on top of the fence, jump down and walk in.

He added that all of their pitches are a “hot spot”, saying no particular spot is targeted.
According to Mntambo, the way they approach each suspected poaching case is different and depends on the case.

The obvious thing is to get resources and go to the area where we hear something or see something, but we also deploy a cop / helicopter for every reaction we get to narrow down the area for us, and the use of K9s helps a lot too.

He added that a true forward-looking infrared (FLIR) camera attached to a helicopter could help as it could also detect what is happening at night. A FLIR camera is mounted at the bottom of a helicopter.

It also has a virtual reality display, so the pilot and the person in the control room can see what is happening on the ground and it will immediately pick up people hiding under bushes.

Mntambo added that the government should also consider deploying the army into the parks to patrol inside and outside the park, saying this is because poaching is not just a provincial issue, but an international issue.

KZN ‘softer target’

The DA’s spokesman for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs in KwaZulu-Natal, Heinz de Boer, said he believes the levels of rhino poaching are also linked to the borders, the criminal justice system and poaching syndicates.

De Boer said rhino poaching in KZN is directly related to poaching in the Kruger National Park.

Kruger National Park has increased its security, area surveillance and policing, which
This meant that the poaching syndicates had to find a softer target and unfortunately KZN was a softer target. From what I know, the poachers are now operating as syndicates, they are very similar to the gangs that our silver vehicles attack. From what I’ve been told, they are not afraid of death or capture and often work for the real masterminds and have financial guarantees in place for their families if they are killed. They are brazen.

De Boer also said that the figures released by the Minister do not surprise him because he has been tracking rhino poaching for about two and a half years now.

I think we’ve seen some action now, there’s an increase in law enforcement and a lot of specialized operations in our key areas. However, he only came now, after killing so many rhinos.

He said a five-person task force investigation report on rhino poaching in KZN had been commissioned
It should have been released a long time ago, instead of just recently. He said that the report might
used earlier to form anti-poaching operations.

De Boer added that another issue is that Ezemvelo has little consequence management
and there is little consequence management for the political leaders, especially the economic ones
development, tourism and environment portfolio.

If this was happening in any other country, where there was accountability, the Minister or the MEC would have resigned or been fired because rhino poaching is nothing new in KZN. We have had a succession of MECs who basically lacked the political strength and vision and forward thinking to insist that Ezemvelo gets the right amount of resources so that they can tackle poachers.

He said Ezemvelo should employ fully trained supervisors and must find the necessary funds to employ them. He said SAPS and other law enforcement agencies need to be at the borders and crime intelligence must start working more closely with Ezemvelo to track down the people behind the poaching syndicates.

Once the crimes are caught, they must be prosecuted in a specialized court. I believe and many people I have spoken to in the private sector believe that the supervisors on the ground are doing an excellent job under very difficult circumstances; they have not had adequate budgets for many years. Some of them have recently been given firearms and bulletproof vests and ammunition, and they have everything
available to them. So we are on the right track.

He said they need to find a mechanism where the private sector can contribute more to non-governmental organizations that help the rangers on the ground and those who help protect the species.

Those NGOs need to be approved at the provincial government level so that people know that if they donate money to that specific NGO, that money will go to Ezemvelo to equip rangers to carry out anti-poaching operations .

This article was originally published The Witness.

‘Send in the army’: Rhino population decimated by highly organised poachers Source link ‘Send in the army’: Rhino population decimated by highly organised poachers

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