SA makes rhino poaching a priority crime
As the pressing issue of saving the rhino returned to the spotlight at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting held in Bangkok last week, back home SA took a drastic step to confront increasingly daring poachers, notes Legalbrief.
Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa confirmed at a Cabinet meeting ahead of CITES that SA has made rhino poaching a priority crime, says a report on the Zoutnet.com site. The decision was made by the National Joint Operations Centre, which is co-ordinated by the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigations. Molewa also said Cabinet had emphasised the need for more technology, especially unmanned aerial vehicles, by the anti-poaching forces. These forces include SANParks rangers who are supported by elements of the SA National Defence Force, as well as police, customs and excise inspectors from the SA Revenue Services and a number of non-governmental organisations. SANParks CE Dr David Mabunda said intelligence and its gathering, which has proven successful, as well as community involvement, would also be heightened. This would be done by bringing home to neighbouring communities the importance of protecting the rhino in an effort to deny poachers, couriers and others involved safe passage in and around the KNP, according to the report.
Full report on the Zoutnet.com site
China and Vietnam have confirmed their commitment to helping prevent the illegal wildlife trade - and specifically the poaching of rhino. According to a Cape Argus report, their commitments were affirmed during talks with Molewa before the CITES conference began. 'This year's conference comes at a critical moment,' says Julia Marton Lefèvre, director-general of the IUCN (World Conservation Union) that is a major player at the conference. 'Rhino poaching is at a record high, illegal trade in ivory and python skins is causing increasing concern, and other species are closer to extinction due to unsustainable trade. Countries must enforce existing laws to ensure wildlife is used sustainably, securing healthy biodiversity and livelihoods.' Full report on the IoL site
SA's white rhino population will begin to decline by 2016 if the current rate of poaching continues, authorities warned on Friday. A report on the News24 site notes that Molewa issued this stark warning on the sidelines of the CITES meeting. 'We think we will start to have problems around the year 2016,' she said, adding 146 rhino have been killed illegally since the start of the year with 50 suspected poachers arrested in the same period. Rhinos have been registered since 1977 under Appendix I of CITES, banning the trade in their parts. Horns from the legal trophy hunting of white rhino in SA and neighbouring Swaziland are exempt from the ban - a move some conservationists say has saved the species by encouraging game reserves to maintain large populations. Kenya had submitted a proposal for a moratorium on the trophy trade, but withdrew it on Thursday. Molewa 'welcomed' the withdrawal of Kenya's proposal saying it would have ended the use of trophy hunting as a 'management tool that can be sustainable and beneficial to the conservation of the species'. Full report on the News24 site
Meanwhile, SA authorities are making good on their promise to target rhino poachers. Nine men suspected of rhino poaching were arrested at a game farm in Lephalale on Sunday, Limpopo police said. According to a report in The New Age, spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said: 'The suspects, whose names and ages are unknown, are from Mozambique and Zimbabwe. They were arrested whilst they were burning a field inside the farm to lure the animals to a spot where they would then kill the rhinos and dehorn them.' Hangwani said the men have been linked to another rhino poaching case in the same area where a calf was killed two months ago. They are expected to appear in the Lephalale Magistrate's Court soon to face charges of illegal hunting of protected game. In a separate case, Steve Mbombi (21) and Roy Baloyi (27) from Mozambique appeared in the same court last week Friday on charges related to poaching, said Hangwani. Police confiscated a hunting rifle and an axe from them after they allegedly tried to poach game in the Kruger National Park. Their case was postponed to 15 March, the report notes. Full report in The New Age
A Limpopo game farmer has asked the North Gauteng High Court to set aside restrictive regulations relating to threatened or protected species, including rhinos. A Cape Times report states that the man - who is also breeding white rhino - claims the regulations, although well intended, endanger the survival of rhino. In papers before the court, Johan Kruger says the regulations resulted in control being taken away from the land owner on whose land the species are kept, and transferred to the state. In the application brought against Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa, Kruger says he is concerned about the conservation and survival of wild animals, especially the white rhino. 'The plight of rhino farmers and breeders in this country has become increasingly difficult, to the point of impossibility to lawfully conduct a successful rhino-breeding operation, by reason of various government notices and regulations imposed by the Minister,' he says. 'She makes it so difficult for rhino farmers or breeders that they are faced with the prospect of not being able to continue farming and breeding rhino.' Full Cape Times report (subscription needed)
Police say they have found no signs of a burglary at a police station outside Brits from where a set of rhino horns disappeared, notes a Mail & Guardian Online report. The horns, one of two sets held at the police station since November, were confiscated after rhino poachers dehorned eight rhinos at the Klipkopspruit private reserve near Sun City in North West. Hawks spokesperson Captain Paul Ramaloko said a theft docket was opened last week Tuesday. 'It is not clear how the horns disappeared because there were no burglaries at the station.' The only people with access to the storeroom were police officers who had the key, the report quotes him as saying. Full Mail & Guardian Online report
In an effort to prevent more incidents of rhino poaching in the Eastern Cape, MEC for Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Mcebisi Jonas, said black rhinos were being moved to 'areas of safety'. According to a report in The Herald, speaking before the 2013 budget speech last week, Jonas said although not much money was spent on fighting rhino poaching, the Green Scorpions had been 'doing phenomenally well'. 'In the Eastern Cape we have been doing exceptionally well in fighting such crimes as rhino poaching. People are really doing their jobs and the success rate is high.' He wanted to build a relationship between the private and public sector to strengthen crime-fighting initiatives. 'The great thing is that we know exactly which areas are vulnerable, so we have started to move them (rhinos) to areas of safety.' Full report in The Herald