Monday, 01 August 2022 16:23

South Africa's rhino poaching trends show a slight increase.

By Lehlohonolo Lehana.

South Africa in the first six months of 2022 has recorded a slight increase of rhino poaching from the same period last year, this after two-hundred and fifty nine rhino were poached for their horn.

The number of rhino poached between January and June 2022 is 10 more than the 249 poached countrywide in the first six months of 2021.

Recent trends in rhino poaching show a move away from the Kruger Park to private reserves and KwaZulu-Natal where the majority of rhinos have been killed this year.

"This makes it all the more important for national government to shift its focus to supporting provincial authorities and private reserves in the war on rhino poaching, "Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, Barbara Creecy said on Monday.

As of January to end of June 2022, 82 rhino were poached for their horn in the Kruger National Park. 

"2022 Poaching statistics show a loss of 210 rhino on state properties and 49 in privately-owned parks. As indicated, hardest hit during this period is KwaZulu-Natal, which recorded a loss of 133 rhino. This is more than triple the 33 rhino killed in the first six months of 2021, "the Minister said.

Arrests and prosecutions

Between January and June, 69 people were arrested in connection with rhino poaching and rhino horn trafficking. Of these, 13 alleged poachers were arrested at the Kruger National Park.

The number of successful arrests and prosecutions recorded over the past six months, can be attributed to the continued successful collaboration between law enforcement agencies, including the South African Police Service (SAPS), Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI) and the Green Scorpions, Customs officials and the National Prosecuting Authority. These efforts are supported by private security.

In addition to work being undertaken within the seven Integrated Wildlife Zones, the partnership now includes both the financial and transport sectors, as well as transit and end user countries in Southeast Asia, especially with the People’s Republic of China, Malaysia and Vietnam.

"As a result of the ongoing work of integrated enforcement teams at OR Tambo International Airport, four alleged rhino horn traffickers were arrested between January and June this year for trying to smuggle 56 pieces of rhino horn out of the country. 

"In one instance, cooperation between the Hawks, Malaysia and Qatar authorities led to the arrest of another alleged rhino horn trafficker and his haul of rhino horn pieces at Doha Airport in Qatar. This arrest demonstrates the success of country-to-country cooperation to combat wildlife trafficking at an international level, "the Minister said.

The Hawks are also working with the US Fish and Wildlife service in an investigation arising from the discovery in June of a suspect parcel at FedEx that was destined for the United States.

The parcel contained eight kilograms of rhino horns pieces concealed as wooden art pieces.

"A number of search and seizure operations took place countrywide, with the Hawks arresting one suspect and confiscating 29 rhino horn during an operation at storage and packing facilities in Bedfordview where rhino horns are prepared and packed for the illegal markets in Southeast Asia.

"In combined law enforcement operations two suspects were arrested in June when they were stopped by the Highway Patrol in Bedfordview and found to be in possession of two fresh rhino horn. Two suspects, one a former Ezemvelo-KZN Parks ranger, were arrested earlier this month after their vehicle was searched and two fresh rhino horn were seized," Creecy said.

One of the accused had previously been arrested for possession of rhino horn in the Kruger National Park. 

On 23 April 2022, an integrated operation was conducted to address money laundering and corruption linked to rhino horn trafficking activities within the Kruger National Park.

"Various search and seizure warrants were authorised and executed at multiple premises in and around the park with the aim of effectively dismantling the operations of some of the main targets.

"A multi-dimensional team led by the Hawks, with the support of the Kruger National Park and Stock Theft and Endangered Species in Skukuza was assembled and premises in Limpopo and Mpumalanga were searched during the operation."

Three suspects were arrested during the operation, which included two Kruger National Park field rangers.

Creecy said the arrests and the success of the operation had a significant impact on the rhino poaching activities within the Kruger Park, and sent out a strong message that corrupt and illegal activities will not be tolerated.

One of the rangers was dismissed during the departmental hearing on 21 July 2022. The other ranger’s departmental hearing is ongoing pending the outcome of the court process.

"In total 51 cases in which 51 people were convicted have been finalised. The heaviest sentence handed down was 34 years imprisonment, while two Mpumalanga men were sentenced to 28 year behind bars for killing rhino and being in possession of illegal firearms and ammunition. 

"In the Skukuza Court, two Mozambican nationals were convicted for poaching a rhino in the Kruger National Park, possession of unlawful firearms and ammunition and being in the country illegally. They were sentenced to 18 years imprisonment," Creecy said.

In another matter, two Mozambican citizens were convicted of poaching two rhino in the Kruger National Park, possession of unlawful firearms and ammunition.

They were sentenced to 19 years imprisonment. In addition, three South Africans were sentenced on charges of rhino poaching in the Kruger National Park and firearm related charges, and sentenced to an effective 24 years in jail," the Minister said.