New measures to curb rhino poaching

FIGHT BACK: Minister Edna Molewa  

MINISTER of Water and Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa announced yesterday that the government would work with law enforcement agencies to curb rhino poaching in South Africa.

"The government views the illegal killing of this national treasure in a very serious light and will continue to fight against this crime jointly with our law enforcement agencies," Molewa said.

Speaking at a press briefing in Pretoria, Molewa said that a number of initiatives were already under way to deal with the scourge of killing rhinos for their horns.

The department is working closely with the SA Police Service, the National Prosecuting Authority and the SA National Defence Force.

"We have established the national biodiversity investigators forum specifically for multi-departmental cooperation and information sharing with various law enforcement agencies," she said.

Molewa added that a national wildlife reaction unit had also been established. According to the minister, the return of the SANDF to monitoring the 350km border between the Kruger National Park and Mozambique had resulted in a decrease in poaching last year.

"It has been found necessary that our border be patrolled by the SANDF. Just their presence is a deterrent," Molewa said.

About 150 new rangers will be deployed to the Kruger Park this year. They will add to the 500 who are already employed.

"The department will implement a decision to deploy conservation specialists at the country's key designated ports of entry," she said.

Molewa said that her department had been in talks with China and Vietnam and memorandums would be signed in the first half of this year to ensure proper wildlife tracking and enforcement.

"Both these countries have pledged their commitment to partner us in addressing this scourge."

The minister said 448 rhinos were killed last year. Eight rhinos have reportedly been killed in the Kruger Park in the past two weeks.

Two men were shot dead by rangers in a shootout in the Kruger Park recently. Two alleged suspects who survived the gun battle were later apprehended and are currently in police custody.

Environmentalist Melissa Weavind, director of People for the Liberation of Animals, said: "Any news about protecting our national heritage is good news, but we need stricter measures.

"We need to mete out harsher sentences to offenders."