Creecy pays tribute to field rangers as war against rhino poaching sees signs of improvement

World Ranger day celebration commemoration in the Kruger National Park
World Ranger day celebration commemoration in the Kruger National Park
Image: THULANI MBELE

South African National Parks is beginning to win the fight against rhino poaching after years of struggle to combat the crime which was threatening one of the country’s big five.

On Wednesday, environment, forestries and fisheries minister Barbara Creecy released the latest figures as the country celebrated World Ranger Day in Skukuza at the Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga.

Creecy said 2018 was the third consecutive year that rhino poaching had decreased, with 769 incidents reported. In the first six months of 2019, 318 rhinos had been poached countrywide, a decline of 68 when compared to the same period last year, she said.

From January to June this year, 122 alleged poachers have been arrested in the Kruger National Park alone. A total of 61 firearms were recovered at the park during this period. Nationally, 253 arrests were made in relation to rhino poaching and trafficking.

“These successes have been achieved through the implementation of the 2014 integrated management plan which combines the use of technology, extensive anti-poaching work as well as the management of the rhino population. It also involves extensive international collaboration across our borders to ensure that rhino poachers are brought to book wherever they hide,” Creecy said.

She said as the country continues to fight rhino poaching, it had to remember the field rangers who work hard to protect plant and animal species.

But Creecy said winning the battle against poaching would require a collaborative effort with other role players such as the ministry of police and the department of justice & constitutional development.

She also challenged Sanparks CEO Fundisile Mketeni to put a proposal to her department for the provision of more equipment for the rangers and other personnel working to preserve the environment.

“The success we have had in the anti-poaching war would not have happened without you, our rangers. Today we honour your commitment and dedication to ensuring that our wildlife is protected. Today we celebrate your achievements and we mourn with you the passing of those who have made the supreme sacrifice,” she said.

On Tuesday, Creecy visited the spot where Respect Mathebula was killed by poachers in July last year at the Kruger National Park. Management at the park unveiled a plaque in his honour in Malelane, Mpumalanga.

Kruger National Park is one of the 19 national parks in the country. Due to its size and the population of wild animals living in it, the park has been the main target of poachers, from within SA and neighbouring countries. This has forced rangers to up their game by using choppers, dogs and the latest combat technology to fight the crime.

Creeecy said her department would continue improving relationships that the national parks have with communities surrounding their reserves.

Ämong the programmes which have been initiated is the bi-annual conferences which allow communities to make contributions to government policy.  Another initiative is the National Co-management Framework which has facilitated deals involving private games reserves for the transfer of skills, job creation and access to direct benefits.

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