Fight against rhino poaching intensifies

With nearly 600 rhinos killed this year alone – almost double the figure in 2010 – law enforcement agencies and conservation groups are stepping up the fight against rhino poaching.

The Hawks, SA’s directorate for priority crime investigation, joined forces with the department of environmental affairs, rangers and SA National Parks to form the anti-poaching task force three years ago as poaching figures began climbing steeply. They focused their work in the Mpumalanga, North West and KwaZulu-Natal regions, but Hawks spokesman Captain Paul Ramoloka says a recent sharp spike in rhino dehorning and slaughtering at the Kruger National Park has put one of Africa’s largest game reserves under the spotlight.

According to statistics released by the department of environmental affairs this week, 347 of the 570 rhinos killed this year were killed at the game reserve. While the figures may paint a gloomy picture, Ramoloka says the recent conviction and 40-year sentencing of Thai national Chumlong Lemtongthai and several arrests this week alone are encouraging.

“More members of the public are coming forward and assisting us with credible intelligence. The long arm of the law will identify these culprits,” Ramoloka says.

Three men, including a game ranger, appeared in court yesterday in connection with the dehorning and slaying of seven adult rhino and a five month old calf at the Klipkopspruit private game reserve near Brits. The men were cornered in an operation – initiated by tip-offs – over the weekend that left one poacher dead following a shootout with the Hawks.

A former police officer appeared in the Middelburg Magistrate’s Court yesterday where he faces a string of charges including illegal rhino hunting, dealing and possession of rhino horn, racketeering and money laundering. Two luxury 4X4’s, a Toyota Fortuner and a Range Rover bought in cash by the then unemployed man, were seized bu police on Wednesday.

North West Premier Thandi Modise – who is calling for the army to be deployed to the province to curb rhino poaching – welcomed the arrests, describing the ranger’s involvement in illegal poaching as “shameful”.

Jason Ball, Southern Africa director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), says the only way to decisively curb elephant and rhino poaching is through a “global shift in attitudes and values”.

“Biologically, elephants and rhinos simply cannot support an economic model of supply and demand. No wildlife can sustain this type of commercial exploitation, let alone a long-living, slow-growing, slow-breeding species.

“Killing of rhino and elephants will only stop when markets for the products are closed,” Ball says.