So far this year, a total 293 rhino have been killed in South Africa, with nearly half of the attacks in the Kruger Park – despite the deployment of troops to protect the besieged animals.
The killing of the rhino has reached crisis proportions – to the extent that even those who are supposed to protect the animal, including park rangers and other officials, are complicit in its slaughter. The involvement of officials is of serious concern and is driven purely by greed, as rhino horns are worth a fortune. There are many dedicated park rangers who daily put their lives on the line to confront heavily armed bandits. These men and women are true patriots who deserve our support.
However, there are others who have been caught working in cahooots with poachers.
The latest incident in which 40 horns worth estimated at hundreds of millions of rands (some reports have put the figure at R3 billion) were been stolen from the safe of a tourism organisation in Mpumalanga, is a classic example of how our officials are part of the problem. The horns were taken from the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks agency at the weekend. The thieves reportedly cut open two steel safes fitted with double locks.
This burglary raises a lot of questions. How did the thieves know there were dozens of horns stored at the agency? And their exact location? How did the thieves gain entry into the building and have all the time to cut open two safes without triggering the alarm?
Without pre-empting the outcome of a police investigation, this break-in bears all the hallmarks of an inside job. Apart from a few of our own officials being part of the problem, their Mozambican counterparts are also not helping.
Anti-poaching accords have been signed between the two countries, as Mozambique is a major transit route for rhino horn trafficked to Asia. Mozambique is a prime source of illegal hunters hired and armed by transnational crime syndicates to cross the border into South Africa to kill the horned beasts.
However, none of these agreements will bear fruit as long as the Mozambican authorities turn a blind eye to well-known wealthy rhino poachers.
There are towns in Mozambique that are booming as a result of revenue generated from the poaching of South African rhinos. Kabok, in western Mozambique is one such example: it is going through an economic boom and has become home to rhino horn millionaires. They build mansions for themselves in their villages with the money they make from poaching in the Kruger National Park.
At the weekend, the Sunday Times published an interview with a self-confessed single-malt- drinking multi-millionaire poacher who brazenly gloated about his wealth. The thug was pictured next to his luxury SUV. In the background is a 26-bedroom luxury lodge he is building using the proceeds of his crimes.
If any agreement between the two countries is to yield positive results, Mozambican authorities must start taking tough action on these well-known untouchable millionaires. The action must include prosecution, as well as freezing and attaching their ill-gotten assets.