The following Media Statement from the South African government arrived in my Inbox this morning.
‘The recent floods in the Kruger National Park, thick vegetation, two weeks of a full moon, aggressive incursions from Mozambique are some of the factors that have contributed not only an increase in poaching in the country’s flagship national park, but also in a rise in the number of arrests of those intent on killing these animals for their horns.
To date 57 rhino have been killed by poachers in South Africa, with 42 of these in the Kruger National Park in January alone.
So far this year six rhino have been poached in KwaZulu-Natal, six in North West, two in Limpopo and one in Mpumalanga. Of the 18 suspected poachers arrested since January 1, 2013, 11 were arrested in the Kruger National Park and three were fatally wounded. Three suspected poachers have been arrested in Limpopo following a tip-off related to their activities in the KNP and two in North West.
Besides the arrest of six suspected poachers, the recovery of seven rhino horns, heavy calibre hunting rifles, ammunition and poaching equipment during three operations in the KNP on January 18 and 19, six suspected poachers have been arrested by South African and Mozambican authorities since Friday (January 25), and two fatally wounded. All were armed.
“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. Our operations are more militaristic. The number of poachers arrested has increased inside and outside the Park.”
Despite the floods that have left large parts of the KNP inaccessible to vehicles and rangers on foot, and totally destroyed the camp at Shingwedzi, the area was still being patrolled with the assistance of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.’
Hmmm. It’s a mixed bag. The government claims that things are working but if the number of rhino poached in January continues at the same rate for the rest of the year then the 2013 total will equal or surpass the record 2012 figure.
Yes, more arrests are an indicator of greater field effort and the anti-poaching patrols should be applauded, but where are the middle men, the criminal kingpins in all of this? Catching poachers in one thing. Breaking criminal networks and catching the masterminds behind this carnage is another.
And while there is still talk about legalising rhino horn trade, which would legitimise in the minds of consumers the efficacy of rhino horn as a medicinal product (which it isn’t) and which would create a legal market into which poached horn could be inserted, the poaching will carry on.
As for the ‘consumer’ countries, unless they implement a rigorous demand-reduction policy incorporating effective enforcement, deterrent sentences, improved intelligence-gathering and public education, then whatever is being done in Africa will only address one side of the equation.
Meanwhile other countries, such as Kenya which rejects trophy hunting, are also under the hammer. Reports have reached me that 4 rhino were killed in Nakuru National Park in the last day or so.
So: will the international community support Kenya’s proposal to suspend all rhino trophy exports from South Africa? The word on the street is probably not. Too many economists, vested interests, theoretical conservationists and hunters involved with too much to lose. Poor bloody rhino.