National 11.9.2016 01:13 pm

Fewer rhinos poached this year, says Molewa

FILE PICTURE:  Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa.

FILE PICTURE: Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa.

The minister believes that although poaching is still devastating wild animals, conservation efforts are bearing fruit.

The combined efforts of the environmental affairs department (DEA), law enforcement, and conservation agencies – with the support of international partners and donors – are slowly but steadily making a dent in rhino poaching numbers, Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa said on Sunday.

In a report-back statement on progress made in implementing the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhino for the period May 1 to August 31, she said poaching was on the decline in the Kruger National Park (KNP) – the area hardest hit.

Between January and the end of August 2016, 458 poached rhino carcasses were found in the KNP, compared with 557 in the same period last year – a 17.8 percent decline. Poaching rates, ie, the number of carcasses as a percentage of the number of live rhino estimated the previous September for each year, reduced by 15.5 percent.

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These figures came amid a 27.87 percent increase in illegal incursions into the KNP – 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 were poached.

“There may be indications, however, that the success of anti-poaching efforts in the KNP has led to poaching syndicates shifting operations to other provinces,” she said.

The number of rhino poached had increased in various other provinces compared with the same period in 2015, such as Kwa-Zulu-Natal, Free State, and the Northern Cape. However, despite these increases there was still a downward trend.

“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. We are utilising our experience and expertise gained through our 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 hard-working law-enforcement teams, and our rangers in particular,” Molewa said.

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Regarding managing rhino populations, the evaluation of internal translocations was nearing completion with the final outcomes expected by the end of 2016. Although rhino translocation out of the KNP began in 1990, the larger impetus began from 2008 onwards. Preliminary assessments suggested a potential 25 percent offset of poaching through rhino saved by moving them from the KNP.

The results further suggested that there were risks involved in moving old adult cows and territorial bulls. Future internal removals would be based on recommendations from this study.

The southwestern black rhino population in various parks had increased by 17 percent in the past five years. The south-central black rhino had increased at between 26 and 69 percent a year at parks other than the KNP, where a decrease of five to 25 percent was noted. The trend for south-central black rhino populations in all national parks combined decreased by between three and 18 percent a year over the past five years.

The movement of rhino to establish strongholds as part of the Rhino Stronghold Initiative was also being implemented although the persistent drought had affected operations. Altogether 217 white rhino, with a further 83 outstanding from the original agreements established in 2015, had been delivered.

So far during 2016, the South African National Parks (SANParks) had rescued 11 rhino orphans bringing the total to 38 since 2013. At present 29 rhino orphans remained alive and looked after in rhino orphanages.

Since the beginning of 2016 SANParks treated 14 rhino bringing the total to 54 injured rhino treated since the beginning of 2014. Unfortunately 31 of these were so badly injured that they had to be euthanized.

There had been a significant increase in the number of arrests of alleged poachers this year. A total of 414 alleged poachers had been arrested in South Africa since January 1 – of which 177 were in the KNP and 237 for the rest of the country. A total of 94 firearms were seized inside the KNP between January 1 and August 31, Molewa said.

– African News Agency (ANA)

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