Over 600 poachers, traffickers arrested

Pretoria – The number of poachers and traffickers arrested for rhino-related poaching offences in South Africa has doubled.

“During 2016, the South African Police Service reported that a total of 680 poachers and traffickers were arrested for rhino-related poaching offences nationally. This is a marked increase in arrests from 317 in 2015,” Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said on Tuesday.

From the total number of arrests made, 417 were both within and outside the Kruger National Park.

Minister Molewa said she is pleased with the progress taking place at the Kruger National Park, as the area is the hardest hit by poaching.

A total of 148 firearms were seized inside the park in 2016, and six just outside the park.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Minister Molewa highlighted the progress made on the implementation of the Integrated Strategic Management Approach.

She said the strategy, which comprises four pillars, namely compulsory interventions, managing rhino populations, long-term sustainability interventions and new interventions, is yielding the desired results.

All of the four pillars are implemented in the context of regional and international cooperation.

Poaching statistics

“A total of 1 054 rhino were poached in 2016, compared to 1 175 in the same period for 2015, representing a decline of 10.3%.

“Specifically for the Kruger National Park, a total of 662 rhino carcasses were found in 2016 compared to 826 in 2015. This represents a reduction of 19.85% in 2016,” Minister Molewa said.

She said the progress was made despite a continued increase in the number of illegal incursions into the Kruger National Park.

She said while there has been a decrease in the number of rhino killed for their horns in the Kruger National Park and Mpumalanga, the number of rhino poached has increased in some other provinces.

“This indicates that syndicates are feeling the pressure from the interventions being employed in the Kruger National Park. We are therefore prioritising these pressure points through enforcement operations,” Minister Molewa said.

She expressed her concern on the 46 elephants that were poached in the Kruger National Park in 2016.

“The interventions being implemented to counter rhino poaching are also used to respond to this emerging threat.

“It is clear that more financial resources are required to address this challenge that we are experiencing in terms of both rhino and elephant poaching,” Minister Molewa said.

Last year, there were 2 883 instances of poaching-related activities (such as poaching camps, contacts, crossings, sightings, tracks and shots fired) in the Kruger National Park, compared to 2 466 recorded in the same period in 2015.

“This is an increase of 16.9%.These criminal gangs are armed to the teeth, well-funded and part of transnational syndicates who will stop at nothing to get their hands on rhino horn. This decrease can be attributed to the efforts of our men and women on the ground, especially our rangers,” Minister Molewa said.

Ports of Entry and Exit

Last year, the Green Scorpions trained 905 border officials on initiatives focused on the Illicit International Cross Border Movement of Endangered Species.

“In December 2016, 90 judicial officers from four different countries participated in a Judicial Colloquium related to the adjudication of crimes relating to biodiversity, the result of a partnership between Department of Environmental Affairs, the GEF-UNEP Rhino Programme and the South African Judicial Education Institute,” Minister Molewa said.

She said the GEF-UNEP Programme has also enabled the renovation of a new laboratory at the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory of the University of Pretoria where the rhino DNA samples are analysed.

“This additional capacity has also enabled us to analyse some of the backlog of routine rhino horn samples.

“During 2016, we also received rhino DNA samples from seizures in Mozambique and Vietnam. This has enabled us to link these seizures to illegal activities in South Africa relating to rhino and providing investigators with critical information to guide further investigations,” Minister Molewa said.

Source: South African Government News Agency