Pretoria – Rhino poaching is on the decline in the Kruger National Park – the area hardest hit by the crime – says Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa.
Between January and the end of August 2016, a total of 458 poached rhino carcasses were found in the Kruger National Park, compared to 557 in the same period last year.
This represents a 17.8% decline in the number of rhino carcasses.
The Minister said this in a statement on Sunday on progress in the implementation of the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros. The period under review covers the period 1 May 2016 to 31 August 2016.
The report revealed that poaching rates, or the number of carcasses as a percentage of the number of live rhinos, estimated the previous September for each year, reduced by 15.5% compared between the same periods in 2015 (9.6%) and 2016 (7.9%).
The figures come amid a 27.87 % increase in the number of illegal incursions into the Kruger National Park – a staggering 2 115 for the first eight months of 2016.
Nationally, 702 rhino were poached since the beginning of 2016 whereas between January and July 2015, a total of 796 rhino were poached.
Minister Molewa said there may be indications that the success of anti-poaching efforts in the Kruger National Park has led to poaching syndicates shifting operations to other provinces.
In the period under review, the number of rhino poached has increased in a number of other provinces such as KwaZulu-Natal, the Free State and the Northern Cape, in comparison to the same period in 2015.
She said despite these increases there is still a downward trend in the number of rhino poached.
“It is also of concern that we have begun experiencing an increase in elephant poaching, despite the vigorous and determined efforts by our rangers, the police and soldiers on the ground.
“Since January 36 elephants have been poached in the KNP,” said the Minister.
She said government was utilising experience and expertise gained through efforts to combat rhino poaching to end elephant poaching as well.
“What is evident, is that these successes can be attributed to the work being done on the ground by our people, our hardworking law enforcement teams and our rangers in particular,” said Minister Molewa.
The combined efforts of the department, law-enforcement and the conservation agencies with the support of international partners and donors are slowly but steadily making a dent in the rhino poaching numbers.
Rhino poaching was declared a National Priority Crime in 2014 and the issue continues to receive the highest level of attention from the department, the country’s law-enforcement authorities, and the prosecution service.
Field Ranger of the Year award
Meanwhile, Minister Molewa congratulated a member of the Environmental Monitors programme in Mpumalanga, Anton Mzimba, who won the coveted Field Ranger of the Year award at the 2016 Rhino Conservation Awards.
“I am concerned that while there are rangers and security officials who go the extra mile to ensure our wildlife is protected and criminals involved in wildlife crime are brought to book, there are also those who have allegedly chosen to embrace the wrong side of the law.
“To these rangers and officials I would like to send a strong message: You will be arrested and prosecuted,” said Minister Molewa.