Good news in battle against rhino poaching

There has been a significant drop in the numbers of rhino poached across the country.

According to department of environmental affairs statement on Friday‚ a day before World Rhino Day‚ there were “dramatic declines” in the number of rhino poached between January to August this year in nearly all provinces.

Departmental spokesperson Albi Modise said 508 rhinos were poached in the eight-month period this year compared with 691 over the same period in 2017.

“Rhino poaching numbers in the Kruger National Park also continue to decline. In the period under review‚ a total of 292 rhino were poached‚ compared to 332 in the same period last year‚” Modise said.

This comes despite a rise in poacher activity inside the Kruger‚ including sightings and incursions with poachers. This year 1‚873 incidents were recorded compared with 1‚702 in 2017.

There was also a drop in rhino poaching in KwaZulu-Natal‚ from 163 last year to 83 this year.

The department said about 400 people had been arrested on various charges‚ including rhino poaching‚ since the start of the year. This includes the arrest of 13 wildlife traffickers - eight South Africans and five Chinese – as they were heading towards China and Vietnam.

Since the start of the year 162 alleged poachers were arrested‚ 83 rhino horns confiscated and 145 weapons seized in the Kruger.

“It is still of concern that our own personnel are being arrested for rhino poaching-related offences. Since January‚ four officials have been arrested by SANParks [SA National Parks] enforcement staff in the Kruger National Park for poaching-related offences. These include members of the SAPS [SA Police Service] and the SANDF [SA National Defence Force]‚” Modise said.

But he said there were still concerns over the delay in the time it took for cases to get to trial‚ saying that traffickers had time to hide or dispose of their proceeds due to these delays.

“A welcome development is that a number of rhino poaching-related cases are now being dealt with by the [National Prosecuting Authority’s] Asset Forfeiture Unit‚” he said.

Modise said 530 rhino poaching-related cases on court rolls across the country‚ involving 750 accused and 1‚738 charges.

“From January to August 2018 a total of 70 cases‚ involving 163 accused were finalised. The trials have resulted in 93% guilty verdicts‚ translating to 288 years in sentencing‚” he said.

SANParks has 63 south-central and 199 south-western black rhino in their rhino parks. There were between 427 to 586 black rhinos in the Kruger last year.

“White rhino numbers in the park‚ however‚ continued to decline‚ with the population estimated at between 4‚759 and 5‚532 individuals during 2017. White rhino‚ unlike black rhino‚ were affected by the drought – with natural mortalities increasing from 1% to 1.5% during the drought‚ while the birth rate dropped from approximately 9% to 5% one year after the drought.”

SA has exported 538 live rhinos since 2014 as part of the requirements of the Convention for the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Most (361) were exported to former range states‚ including Botswana‚ Chad‚ Namibia‚ Rwanda and Zambia for zoological purposes and for reintroduction to range states.

Since the Constitutional Court lifted the moratorium on the domestic trade of rhino horn‚ 28 trade permits have been issued.

“In terms of the permits issued‚ 12 permits were granted for the sale of 1‚219 rhino horn‚ while permits were granted to 16 buyers‚” said Modise.

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